The mirror is a powerful possession, simply because it has the influence of an inescapable truth: a reflection. When someone gazes into a mirror, there are no edits or touch ups or Photoshop. There is nothing but reality in the form of a reflection, a truth everyone has to come to terms with. Whatever truth is produced through this reflection has massive effects on the human spirit and mind. These effects are magnified even more by what a person carries with them to the mirror. Everyone brings something to the mirror. The triumph, tragedies, perceptions, perspectives and most importantly, the words that have been seared into them by others. These emotional and mental weights distort the already mighty reflection, causing a person to become a slave to the mirror and feel despairing to any chances of changing what they see. For some, this experience is all too real.
When a young, African American child approaches the mirror, the reflection they see includes the weight of 300 years of oppression in which they and their ancestors have endured. They see the societal labels that have been thrusted upon them – labels such as thug, threat and menace. They see an unavoidable painful existence, and inevitable fate that they are shackled to. They see a broken vessel, struggling to stay afloat and not to be crushed by the waves of their troublesome plight. When a young African American child approaches the mirror, they see a simple truth: they can never change their reflection. This truth is like an earthquake shaking the confidence and swallowing them in a hole of hopelessness.
But just as it seems that this child is at their lowest point, they turn on the television and see a glimmer of light. This glimmer of light is an angel cloaked in purple and gold. He is death defying, mesmerizing and awe inspiring. He is a once in a lifetime human being. He dawns the number 24. This light is named Kobe Bryant. Suddenly, this child is enthralled by what they see, unable to change the channel. The young child is astounded by Bryant’s skills, from his amazing athleticism and scoring ability to his indominable will and heart. They are impressed by his leadership and competitive fervor. They fall in love with his aura, becoming obsessed with witnessing Bryant’s ascension both on and off the court. Bryant goes on to reach unparalleled heights. For the next 20 years, he dominates the game of basketball. He wins five NBA championships, becomes fourth all-time in points scored, is named a 17-time all-star, wins two Olympic gold medals and retires as undoubtedly one of the greatest players to ever live.
Not only did Bryant succeed on the court, he thrived off of it. He was an incredible father to his four daughters, an Oscar award winner, spoke three languages and started a charity. Most of all, he was free of the mirror and the weight of its societal reflection. Bryant defied every expectation and limitation put in front of him. He soared past the chains of societal labels and took control of his own reflection. For that, to the African American child so invested in his career, he is a hero.
Athletes hold a special place within the hearts of African American youth. Athletes are the equivalent of Superman and Captain America because they deliver hope to them . Wesleyan Director of Diversity Dr. Jennifer Pinkett Smith said, “Athletes are vital to the development of our younger African Americans because they provide hope and encouragement to attain dreams. Through hard work and perseverance, dreams can come true. They’re also vital because through their success, they can give back to improve their community through service and motivation.” To African Americans across the country, Kobe Bryant was more the just an athlete. He was the living embodiment of hope. A hope that through hard work, perseverance and the grace of God, they too can one day take control of what they see in they see in the mirror. A hope that one day, they will not be burdened by past oppression. They will not be labeled as a threat or menace or will not be underestimated, unappreciated and unwanted. A hope that one day, they can be seen as powerful, unstoppable, incredible and undeniable as he was. He was their standard of black excellence. He was their blueprint to success. He inspired a generation to fight for their dreams, despite the obstacles and never settle. He became a reflection of the beautiful and powerful African American community.
On Jan. 26, African Americans everywhere found out that their hero, hope and reflection was gone. On that day, Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, and seven others lost their lives in a helicopter crash. He was 41 years old. His daughter was 13 years old. On that day, Kobe joined black icons such as Tupac, the Notorious B.I.G, Nipsey Hussle, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and many others who have escaped the societal reflection, touched the sky, but their live were cut short before we could truly see them shine. Senior Jamarcus Davidson said, “Kobe was a hero. He was a significant figure to Black culture.”
Just like that, reality set in and sadness flooded the hearts of an entire community. The shackles began to reappear. The weights began to pile back on. Suddenly, looking in the mirror was hard to do again. On that day, there was no light. No hope. No hero. In the sadness, the once positive image a community acquired is once again distorted and reverted back to what society sees. The man who taught this community to conquer their image has been conquered by death. It felt as if those destined to escape the reflection have been to leave this life too soon.
In the absence of a hero, another has to arise for the next generation; another man or woman who can defy gravity and once again raise young African Americans out of the pit, just like Kobe Bryant and all the other icons did before. Someone who is a champion for education, equality, perseverance and strength, a larger than life presence – a legend. To anyone reading this, my prayer is that you live a significant life. Live a life that allows those around you to find the confidence to stand in front of the mirror with dignity and pride in what is staring back at them and frees people from the unwanted weight of society. Live a life that motivates and elevates everyone you come in contact with. Live a life like Kobe Bryant- a life that reflects the beauty of your community.
May God bring peace and blessings to all those lost and their families in this time of sorrow.