“Ad Perpetuam Rei Memoriam:” In Memoriam of Kobe Bryant

By: Camille Davis

Photo Courtesy of clipart.com

As the world reels from the news regarding the sudden and horrendous death of 41-year-old Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, it seems as though no particular tribute or testimony provides the adequate amount of answers or comfort. Grief is often debilitating, and when it is met with shock, the two culminate into a potion — or sometimes a poison — that seems impenetrable.

Although this is the case, we at The Future of the Past believe that historians have a mandate to tackle life as it comes — or in the case of history — has come. History is filled with both triumph and disaster, as well as questions that have no easy, definitive explanations. Ours is a field that encompasses the entirety of the human experience, and it is a field that provides a long, broad lens from which to examine both past and current events. With this in mind, we join the rest of the world in submitting our “ad perpetuam rei memoriam,” our “permanent record of the matter” regarding the loss of one of the most well-known and respected cultural icons of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Photo Courtesy of thewrap.com

 

Photo Courtesy of ABC

Exceptionalism

Bryant’s professional, athletic accomplishments are well-documented. Among them are being a first -round NBA pick during the 1996 draft, earning 5 NBA championships and two Olympic gold medals, appearing in 18 All-Star games, setting an NBA record as the third-highest scoring player in a single game until Lebron James surpassed his record on  January 25th, and playing with the Los Angeles Lakers for twenty-years, which is more than three times the span of the average, professional athlete’s career.  Yet interestingly, despite the gravitas of his NBA record, Bryant’s life off the court seems to provide the most compelling components of his legacy.

Photo Courtesy of NBC

Mamba Mentality

“Mamba Mentality” is a term that Bryant famously coined in 2016. He described it as the ability to “be the best version of yourself.” He named himself “Black Mamba” after a snake that was used as the symbol of an assassin in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 film “Kill Bill.” The term evolved into a mantra about challenging oneself for greatness, exceeding the boundaries of physical and mental comfort, rising to the occasion, and focusing on solutions instead of excuses. In 2018, Bryant formally articulated this philosophy by co-writing a book called The Mamba Mentality: How I Play. The book became a manifesto for goal setters — both athletes and non-athletes — about how to meet the challenges of life with courage and commitment. New Orleans Saints All-Pro linebacker Demario Davis told USA Today, “Kobe’s impact transcends the game of basketball. It transcends life… Mambo mentality is more of an approach than anything else. It’s about attacking what’s in front of you with passion and purpose, without fear and doubt and without an ounce of quit.”

Bryant used this ethos to guide his post-pro-basketball life with the same intensity and intent that guided his time on the court. And equally as important, he spent his time in retirement encouraging others to do the same.

In 2016, he began the Mambo Sports Academy with the specific goal of mentoring athletes at every level of the game: NBA players, potential NBA recruits, high school students, and children. The academy included men, women, boys, and girls, and it was symptomatic of the teaching, support, and encouragement that Kobe had generously given to younger athletes during a large portion of his career. During the summer of 2019, Kobe Bryant and his Mambo Sports Academy hosted NBA players Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Jamal Murray, De’Aaron Fox, Tobias Harris, Isaiah Thomas, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne recently explained that as Bryant planned to leave the NBA, she conceptualized writing an article about him that would “top them all.” When pitching her story idea to Bryant, she admits to appealing to his ego in order to get his permission to write a story that would be filled with grandiose language. She inferred that her article would simultaneously flatter Kobe while advancing her own career. Bryant saw right through Shelburne and declined. Instead of accepting a piece filled with vainglory, he encouraged her to write something authentic.

“He said he’d do a story with me about his life, but not out of vanity — mine or his,” she admitted. He told her, “I’m not interested in self-serving pieces. It has to be something where an athlete reads it and is inspired by something, learns something, and pushes themselves.”

Bryant’s famed “Dear Basketball” retirement poem confirmed this reality. He was done with vanity. He was ready to see himself — and for the world to see him—as he truly was: strong yet vulnerable to the wears and tears that time and experience unequivocally make upon the body.

Photo Courtesy of Google Images

The Beauty of Authenticity

In 2018, at the 90th Academy Awards, Bryant earned an Oscar within the category of “Best Animated Short Film” after turning his retirement poem into an animated film. He chose storied, Disney animator, Glen Keane, as his illustrator for the film, and he tapped legendary composer John Williams to write the film’s score. Though not formally educated past high school, Bryant was a known intellectual who favored Beethoven, which impacted the rhythm and tone of the music he preferred to accompany his autobiographical poetry.

Mumba Mentality and “Dear Basketball” were not the only pieces of literature Bryant penned. In early 2019, he began publishing the first volume of a children’s book series called The Wizenards, through his media company Granity Studios. Bryant co-wrote the series with author Wesley King. The next editions of the series were supposed to launch in March of this year. King has stated that the news of Kobe’s and his daughter, Gianna’s, deaths led him to delete the manuscript. The first edition of the series made The New York Times best seller list.

In addition to writing formally, Bryant also regularly made time to send text to friends and colleagues whom he believed needed encouragement. ESPN writers Ramona Shelburne and Jackie MacMullan both wrote pieces this week attesting to Bryant’s generosity of spirit exhibited through his notes of inspiration.

Photo Courtesy of theheavy.com

 

Photo Courtesy of NY Post

Fatherhood

The person he encouraged and instructed most passionately was his 13 year-old-daughter, Gianna, who was one of four  daughters he shared with his wife, Vanessa. In addition to his usual fatherly activities, he spent a significant amount of his time mentoring Gianna in basketball and providing tutorials to her AAU teammates when they visited the Mambo Sports Academy. Both Gianna’s death and her fathers were premature, and there will never be a human explanation insightful enough to ease the torment of their passing.

Photo Courtesy of Black Enterprise

Final Analysis

Despite the tragedy of this moment, it is reasonable to assume that Bryant lived  the end of his life with a peace about himself and all that he accomplished. His epic achievements and adventures are astonishing and inspiring for those who witnessed them or subsequently learned of them, but they seem right in line with what young, Kobe Bryant planned and fantasized about as a boy growing up in California and in Italy. As he scurried around shooting tube socks pretending to make clutch plays, as he describes in “Dear Basketball,” one can imagine a notebook, a journal, or maybe even a scrap of paper with a detailed plan for his life and these Italian words scribbled across the top of the page: Perpetuam Rei Memoriam, The Final Records of the Matter, before those records ever even occurred.

On behalf of your fans at SMU, rest well Kobe and Gianna.

 

 

When Virtue Comes in Color: The Historical Implications of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Voyage to South Africa

By Camille Davis

The Duke and Duchess in South Africa. Photo Courtesy of Yahoo News.

Recently, the world watched Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, and their four-month-old son, Baby Archie, as they spent ten days touring South Africa. The media images of a royal, Western, interracial couple visiting a country that is notorious for its recent, segregationist past presents a poignant and powerful message about the progress and transformation that is present in both the British royal family and in the former apartheid-ridden, South Africa. Even more so, the racial context of the Duke and Duchess trip is palpable because of the criticism Markle has faced for her racially mixed heritage. The royal family has fully accepted Markle, but the British press has not.  There are also those within the American press who are relentlessly indignant about the African blood in Markle’s veins.  During her tenure as a royal, the duchess has not spoken explicitly about her ethnicity, until her most recent visit to South Africa. While addressing a crowd in Cape Town, she referred to herself as “a member of the royal family, a mother, a wife, a woman, a woman of color, and as your  [the people of Cape Town’s] sister.” This statement is powerful because it attests to the ability of Markle to represent multiple components of herself simultaneously. In essence, she exhibited that being a woman of color and being a British royal are not mutually exclusive. One can be both — and represent both—exceptionally well.

One of the great Western misconceptions about people with non-European heritage or racially mixed identities is that they are incapable of filling roles outside of those traditionally prescribed for them. For those who think this way, it is difficult to conceptualize a person of color operating in a position that has been historically preserved — either by law or custom — for those who are white. The Daily Mail’s infamous reference to Markle as being “straight out of Compton” and other pejorative comments of that sort are rooted in the idea that a black woman could not effectively navigate the responsibilities of a British royal. Her ethnicity and/or the culture that the ethnicity represents imbue her with a limited capacity.  In short, a woman of color is not fully a woman.

The Duchess of Sussex guest editing British Vogue. Courtesy of @SUSSSEXROYAL

Such marred perceptions create a proverbial tight rope for which Markle must walk. With each step, she must carry multiple layers of her identity with dexterity and grace because a misstep means that one or all of those layers will be marginalized and diminished by a jeering, chanting critical onlooker. A misstep means that she is criticized about her race, her role as a wife, her role as mother, her role as a royal, her identity as a woman — she is critiqued about her success or failure at being all of these things at once. The cynicism about her race creates a sense of dubiousness about the other parts of her. “Can a black woman be a  ______?” This is why Markle’s public, multi-faceted identification of herself in her various roles is so important. By simultaneously claiming her familial roles, her royal role, and her race, she asserts her awareness of the tight rope and her willingness to walk it. And what better place to do this than in a country that is still healing from its deeply embedded, historical, racial wounds?

The Duchess cooking at the Hub Community Kitchen, a place for victims of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fires. Photo Courtesy of the LA Times via Jenny Zarins/ AFP/Getty Images/Kensington Palace
The cover of the September issue of British Vogue.
M.M’s birthday cake by Luminary Bakery. Photo Courtesy of Marie Claire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A thank you note from M.M. to Luminary Bakery for her birthday cake.

Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk

As is the case with all of us, the ultimate test for the Duchess of Sussex is what she does — not just what she says. In Markle’s case, the ease in which she delivered her Cape Town speech was indicative of the life she is living and has lived. During her two years as a member of the royal family, she has accomplished a tremendous amount. The most well-documented achievements include working with fashion designer Misha Nonoo  and the charity Smart Works to create a clothing line for unemployed British women who are attempting to re-enter the workforce; being a co-author and royal patron of the Together: Our Community Cookbook to raise money for victims of the  June 2017 fire in  the Grenfell Tower high-rise; guest editing the September issue of British Vogue and creating a theme for the issue that focuses on women who are creating positive social and political change in the world; also commissioning  her birthday cake from Luminary Bakery, a bakery that hires women who have survived trauma that includes abuse, homelessness, and incarceration. Additionally, she recently flew commercial in order to attend the U.S. Open in support of her friend, another woman of color, Serena Williams.

The Duchess at the U.S. Open on September 7th. She is sitting next to her friend, Serena Williams’ mother, who is on her right. Photo Courtesy of Fox News.

Do these actions tell us everything there is to know of her? Absolutely not. However, they do say that she has the ability to be a representation of feminine excellence for a woman of any race in the same way that her storied and beloved, late mother in law, Princess Diana was – and still is. By being an excellent woman of color, Markle will contribute to the eventual characterization of women of color as simply and unequivocally “women” by the Western world.