Fine Arts Petition to Honor Chadwick Boseman Gains Traction Both Online and Off

Chadwick Boseman speaking at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con International. Photo by Greg Skidmore.

By Arthur Cribbs, Howard University News Service

Shortly after news broke of Chadwick Boseman’s death on August 28, Maya Shed, a senior majoring in theatre arts administration, took to the internet to honor the late actor and Howard University alum.

Shed created a petition intended for Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick and the Howard Board of Trustees to re-establish the College of Fine Arts in Boseman’s honor. Receiving over 10,000 signatures within the first 48 hours, Shed’s petition on Change.org reached 30,000 signatures in less than a week. However, despite widespread traction of the petition, the university is still considering future actions.

A decision on how to proceed will be made after communicating with the family on next steps,” said a spokesperson for President Wayne A. I. Frederick in an email.

“He’s a Bison brother and a very special part of the Fine Arts family, and I wanted him to be memorialized in a long-lasting way,” said Shed. “I thought that gathering as much support as I possibly could before presenting the idea to Howard’s Board of Trustees would be the most impactful way to go about it.”

Boseman, class of 2000, returned as the 2018 commencement speaker. There he shared his struggles as a student, fighting to prevent the minimization of the then-College of Fine Arts. 

“In order to preserve Howard’s annual appropriations from Congress, President H. Patrick Swygert decided to reduce the number of colleges at the university… Fine arts, my school, would be absorbed by Arts and Sciences,” said Boseman at the ceremony. “For many of us in Fine Arts, this signaled to us that our curriculums or the curriculums of the students following us would become watered down concentrations.”

While the Department of Fine Arts was minimized to a division within the College of Arts and Sciences and remains in that current state, according to Shed, the university was making steps towards re-establishing the College of Fine Arts; a progression that has been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the delay, Shed and many other Howard students/alum express that the time is now to honor both Boseman and the fine arts community at the university.

“As Fine Arts students, we always hear stories from professors about our alumni, especially the famous ones. Even in the stories, Chadwick seemed so driven and full of life,” said Shed. “He exuded grace and kindness, which was visible even in the short time I was able to work in his presence. Knowing that our Division, and specifically the Department of Theatre Arts, can produce that great of talent is motivating, and the way that he lived his life is humbling.”

Other fine arts students also feel similarly in honoring Boseman.

“Chadwick has done so much for not only the fine arts community but the whole school,” said junior acting major John L. Woods III. “He has truly been an inspiration to my peers, and one of the reasons I came to this school to pursue my passion in acting. He has never forgotten about us, so it is only right that we never forget about him.”

Outside of the Department on Fine Arts, Howard students of various majors also expressed support for the petition.

His contributions to society, to the school, to black people and the culture are so grand,” said sophomore journalism student Greg Coleman. As a member of the Showtime Marching Band, and a brother and friend of so many fine arts majors, it is only right to establish that as its own college and give that school the proper funding.”

President Frederick spoke in reverence of Boseman after the late actor’s death. “Boseman was a man of grace and humility. A deep thinker who had a deep passion for writing and uplifting his people. A staunch supporter of social justice, he did not shy away from using his voice in service to those without one.”