Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick opens up about his friendship with the late Black Panther star: "He was very much about betterment of people"


As fans around the world continue to mourn the sudden death of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, those who knew him best are sharing their heartfelt tributes and fond memories of the groundbreaking actor.

Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick formed a special bond with Boseman, a Howard alum, after inviting him to be the school's commencement speaker on May 15, 2018. Frederick, who holds an MD and MBA, is a practicing surgical oncologist who treats patients with colon cancer. He, like the rest of the world, was shocked to learn Boseman had died after a four-year battle with the disease at age 43 on Aug. 28.

"I am a practicing GI [gastrointestinal] surgical oncologist. I actually take care of patients with colon cancers that are stage IV that have spread to the liver and other areas. It was not only shocking but it was also, in some ways inspiring as I think about what those patients go through. I understand that intimately. I understand how you can have good days and bad days while taking chemotherapy, how your energy levels can change, how your mood can change, how even the daunting nature of such a very difficult diagnosis can really impact how you interact with others. The fact that he could insulate those urges from how he presented himself on a day to day basis is an amazing tribute to the fact that he was always considerate of others. He always put others first and was as selfless a human being as you can have."

He adds: "There was absolutely no inclination [of his illness]. He never alluded to it, and he knew what I did as well, so you would think if he had any tendency to be concerned or to put himself first, it would have been easy for him to even run that scenario by me. He didn’t."

Frederick says that Boseman's selflessness never wavered.

Chadwick Bozeman receiving honorary Howard university degree
President Wayne A. I. Frederick and Chadwick Boseman
| Credit: Chris May/Getty

"Recognizing as well that he was also very private, but at the same time it just says a lot about him," adds Frederick. "He didn’t make any excuses. He always showed up. He was always dedicated to what we were trying to do and accomplish together and never once said, 'I can’t do this because I’m busy, I’m going to be shooting.' He made himself available. I think that says a lot. It’s a great example for all of us, we can get so self-absorbed and I think he has taught us that the best thing we can do is to make ourselves available to others."

Frederick says he was inspired by how Boseman always seemed to be thinking of others before himself.

"He was very much about betterment of people, and especially people of the African diaspora. He recognized their barriers and obstacles in the way of African Americans and in particular people of the African diaspora. He recognized his own journey had those obstacles and obstacles that he was able to overcome. I think he also felt strongly that part of what he was called to do as well was to make sure that he ease the path for others who may come behind him, in the same manner in which people made the path for him better."

Chadwick Boseman
| Credit: Art Streiber/AUGUST
  • For much more about the life and legacy of Chadwick Boseman, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday

Looking back on Boseman's powerful commencement speech, Frederick says "it was a special day" for the actor.

"When I got into the car with him he was nervous, which really surprised me," recalls Frederick. "But coming back home is always different, there is so much emotion involved and he really put his heart and soul into that speech and the reception was incredible. The students and their families were really really excited to see them. I think he was also really humbled by the reception that he received as well."

Before his death, Boseman was working with Frederick to develop some programs for the students at Howard, which Frederick says he will put in place.

"Since his passing as well, just in the past 24-48 hours, there are lots of alumni who’ve contacted me and lots of people I’ve been in touch with who are seeking ways to memorialize him," adds Frederick. "We’re going to be thoughtful as a university to make sure we do that in the most dignified manner, and in a way that really embodies what he was about and who he was as a human being, there’s no doubt about that."

Frederick says he hopes that people will hold onto the example Boseman set for others and continue to be inspired by it.

"I still feel that the most important thing about him was how well he treated each individual person and I can’t overemphasize that," he says. "Our country is in a difficult situation right now, for more reasons than one, there’s a lot of reasons for us to pull apart from others – from the pandemic and having to socially distance a lot, to social justice issues that we have, for us to be so suspicious of one other and apprehensive. I hope that we will all take away from this young man’s life that at the end of the day, love conquers all and our ability to embrace that and see it in each other, ultimately, is the answer for so much of what ails us."