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WRIGHT: Loss of life over past year continues to impact Black community

Column: The Black Light

The deaths of celebrated figures in the Black community, such as Pop Smoke, have a negative impact on mental health in an already challenging time. – Photo by Real Pop Smoke / Instagram

In just a few weeks makes a whole year of being in a global pandemic. As a transfer student here at Rutgers, the Fall 2019 semester was my first semester at a four-year university as a junior. Now fast-forwarding more than a year later, so much has changed my life as a human who just so happens to attend Rutgers. 

Starting with the Spring 2020 semester, my second semester at Rutgers. 

The first few weeks of the semester were shaping up to be a great time — I liked all of my classes, I was slowly becoming more involved within the Black community at Rutgers and the few people I met the semester prior were becoming some of my close friends. 

As January began to creep to a close, LeBron James passed Kobe Bryant in all-time points at the STAPLES Center with a packed arena there to see such an amazing feat with Kobe Bryant right there courtside. The two greats embraced after the game, showing the love that they shared for each other after years of playing against each other. 

The day that followed the spectacular record-breaking performance by James was a routine Sunday for me. Head to my father's house, watch some football (albeit the Pro Bowl this Sunday) and relax with my family. 

At approximately 2 p.m., my dad yelled in a very confused voice, “Kobe’s dead?”

Not even bothering to look at him, I immediately called it a hoax due to how eerie it was that Kobe Bryant would be dead less than 24 hours after seeing him courtside on TV with James. As the time passed more and more media sources began reporting on the news, until finally TMZ and ESPN broke the news.

Once we read it from those two sources, that confirmed the news that Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant and seven other people died in a Calabasas helicopter crash.

On the Sunday of Jan. 26, 2020 the world felt like it stood still for the rest of the day. 

NBA games were canceled for the day, and the Pro Bowl did a short tribute to Kobe Bryant prior to the game starting later on that night.

After the world somewhat regained its grip crawling into February, one of my favorite albums of 2020 was released with Pop Smoke’s "Meet The Woo 2." In 2019 Pop Smoke had an amazing year, and this highly anticipated sequel to his premier project "Meet the Woo" was nothing but great music from him. 

The album brought him to rarefied air as an artist — it showcased him as a very talented artist who had much more to offer than his first time around, making him a household name and added an unknown allure to him that nearly everyone loved at the age of 20. 

Following the release of "Meet The Woo 2," Pop Smoke's music was heard everywhere. Parties, cars speeding down the street, small children singing along to the lyrics of “Dior,” you name it, his music was being played there. 

On the morning of Feb. 19, 2020 I remember walking into the School of Communication and Information building on the College Avenue campus on my way to my first class. Before opening the door I answered a FaceTime call from my best friend panicking at work. 

“Bro, they killed Pop Smoke,” were the first words uttered from him. 

Just as confused as I was less than a month before with the death of Kobe Bryant, I dismissed this news from him, hung up and sat at my desk and opened my laptop before class. 

After seconds of logging into my laptop, my phone rang once again and this time it was my mother calling to ask if I heard the news about Pop Smoke, knowing how big of a fan I am. I told her I just heard the news and did not believe it, but I doubted that she was lying to me. So while on the phone with her I checked TMZ and other sources, and they confirmed yet another death of a talented Black man in less than a month. 

As I hung up the phone with my mom, I was not granted the same amount of brevity to digest this news before going into the real world as I did with Kobe Bryant on a Sunday afternoon. Instead, I was expected to change gears and go right into work mode and focus on this class for the next three hours of my life. 

This type of compartmentalization of Black students became a lot more evident to myself over the next 12 months. 

Black women and men being slain in the street, on what felt like a daily basis during the height of a global pandemic, and I, a Black man, am expected to stop what I am doing to get back to work like the world is not affecting my mental health. 

It was either the cops got to us or the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and I had to be the best I could to focus on getting good grades in a virtual format. This was all while missing out on my actual university experience altogether, while also ignoring the giant black elephant in the room due to class syllabi and curriculum. 

Amir Wright is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and minoring in Africana studies. His column, "The Black Light," runs on alternate Fridays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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