2020 brings tragic celebrity deaths that impact Baker University students

2020 has been a difficult year for a great number of people. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have suffered hardships beyond anything they have ever experienced. On top of a global pandemic, this year has presented the tragic deaths of several prominent celebrities.

Chadwick Boseman, Kobe Bryant, Naya Rivera and Chi Chi DeVayne are four significantly devastating celebrity losses that have impacted their fan bases and left many reeling. On Baker University’s campus, many students were fans of one or more of these celebrities and can still recall the impact that each person had on their lives.

Chadwick Boseman

When the long-anticipated “Black Panther” was released in 2018, actor Chadwick Boseman brought King T’Challa from the comics to life. The morals valued by King T’Challa proved to be the same in Boseman’s life. Because of his talent on the screen, social activism off the screen and the love he showed for others, Boseman planted a seed encouraging everyone to always “remember who you are.”

Heartbreak and shock rang through the world when Boseman died on Aug. 28 at age 43. According to a social media post on the actor’s official Instagram page, he died in his home surrounded by his family. It was later revealed that Boseman had been diagnosed with stage three colon cancer in 2016 and had been battling it ever since. Per Boseman’s wishes, his condition was kept secret and he continued his acting career up until his death.

“Black Panther” was arguably the greatest film for Boseman, launching his career’s breakthrough. But it was more than just a movie. Millions of Black children were finally able to see a superhero who looked like them.

From kindergarten to high school, Junior Mohamet Cisse was always one of the only Black kids. Where he grew up in Italy, they celebrated two major holidays: Halloween and Carnival, both in which people dressed up in costumes. Usually, young boys would dress up as superheroes and young girls as Disney princesses.

“I remember that I never dressed up because I never had a superhero who really represented me, and usually I saw Black people portrayed as criminals or bad people,” Cisse said.

To this day, “Black Panther” is still Cisse’s favorite movie. He has taken lessons away that he can now apply to his own life and ultimately influence others positively.

“You do not need to go to Wakanda to find a Black Panther,” Cisse said. “At the end of the day whoever fights against racism, abuse, discrimination and inequality every day is already a Black Panther — already a king or a queen of Wakanda.”

Kobe Bryant

Possibly the biggest shock of 2020 came just shortly after the year began when Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant, 41, was killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. Bryant was one of nine victims, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

To many, the tragedy still does not feel real. Bryant had an immortal aura about him that made him seem untouchable. His death was a reminder of how precious and unpredictable life truly is.

Those who followed Bryant’s career found inspiration through his work. Bryant often went by “Black Mamba,” after Africa’s deadliest snake. He was the epitome of the “mamba mentality” by being fearless and relentless on the court and encouraging his teammates and fans to do the same.

Since his death, fans have honored him by wearing and upholding his two famous jersey numbers, eight and 24. Senior Kwan Brooks is a long-time fan of Bryant on and off the court.

“Kobe left a legacy like no other. He only played for one team and earned multiple rings. In my eyes, he was the greatest player to ever step on the court,” Brooks said. “He was the ‘Black Mamba’ for a reason. One quick bite (shot) and the game was over that quick.”

Naya Rivera

On July 8, actress Naya Rivera was reported missing after her rental boat was found floating on Lake Piru in Ventura County, CA. Although she was presumed dead, Rivera’s body was later found after the nearly five-day search. Rivera is said to have drowned after putting her young son Josey back onto the boat.

Rivera’s untimely death was a shock to many, as she had quite an impact on many people. Rivera was known by most for her role as lesbian cheerleader, Santana Lopez, in the musical-television program “Glee.”

Sophomore Katie Drake was struck by Rivera’s death. Growing up, Drake was an avid viewer of “Glee.” For Drake, what stood out about Rivera’s character was that she broke the mold of the types of female characters that she was used to seeing.

“She was the first bad girl character I was exposed to on television,” Drake said. “I loved how she was ‘I am here, this is me’ and she was unapologetic for being herself.”

On top of being a strong and empowering female character, Rivera’s Santana is commonly known as a catalyst for LGBTQ+ representation on television.

Like Drake, Senior Jesse Gardner was a fan of Rivera and her work on “Glee.”

Gardner thinks that Rivera was a vessel for increased representation of LGBTQ+ characters, as she did not adhere to the usual stereotypes of lesbians.

“Gay women can come in any color, shape and size. There’s a stereotype that lesbians must be butch or they’re not gay. The fact that Santana was played by this gorgeous woman shattered people’s perceptions of lesbians,” Gardner said.

On top of her groundbreaking role in “Glee,” Rivera will be remembered for her work with LGBTQ+ rights, immigrant rights and women’s rights.

“I don’t think we’ll ever forget her,” Gardner said.

Chi Chi DeVayne

On August 20, Zavion Davenport, better known as Chi Chi DeVayne, died after contracting pneumonia following a hospital visit due kidney failure prompted by his scleroderma.

DeVayne was known for competing on the reality/competition series, “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Prior to finding success on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Davenport worked multiple jobs to support himself.

DeVayne first competed on the eighth season of “Drag Race” placing fourth. DeVayne returned to compete for the third season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars” where she placed eighth.

DeVayne’s death was shocking to many, as DeVayne had accumulated a loving fan base.

Senior Jesse Gardner was one of DeVayne’s fans.

“What I loved most about Chi Chi were her tattoos and her honesty; two characteristics I value,” Gardner said.

Gardner thinks that DeVayne’s death affected so many because they got the chance to fall in love with her personality during her time on “Drag Race.”

If Gardner could tell DeVayne one thing, she would say “Chi Chi, you were such a talented, charismatic and real queen who has been loved by so many throughout your time on this Earth. We love you.”