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A Man Died Today: Reactions to Kevin Samuels’ Legacy

Robert Monson

Good day everyone. There has been a lengthy break in my writing, but now I am back. I pray that you all are in good health and prospering in the ways that are meaningful to you. 

I must confess that sitting down to write something on Kevin Samuels, particularly after his death, feels strange. I tend to uphold Black people. I am not one to tear down my kin in the face of the many obstacles that we face as individuals and a community. There are enough blogs, hot takes, and societal messaging that come to steal, kill and destroy us. With that being said, I feel a nudge to write about this man and what he has left in his wake.

On Thursday, May 5th, 2022, social media started to rumble as Kevin Samuels became a trending topic. I initially assumed that it was because of one of his characteristically controversial takes, and so I decided to go about my business. As the topic began to grow, I took a peek at what was brewing (I am nosy, after all). 

Kevin Samuels was dead. Wow. 

As I began to take in the polarizing commentary on this man’s death, I  struggled with the initial wave of thoughts that came to my mind (I won’t be sharing those here; that is what a good group chat is for). I wasn’t the only one who was trying to make sense of it all. 

On one side of the conversation, Black women (and some Black men) voiced their relief, indifference, and even glee at this tragic news. 

On the other side of the conversation were Black men who voiced their displeasure that Black people were expressing their happiness at a Black man dying. Their frustration seems to be twofold. First, they believe that nobody should be rejoicing. Second, they seem to be confused by why people would be rejoicing over Samuels’ death in the first place. (As a side note: people on the Internet will be more than happy to tell you why they are rejoicing).

“We Shouldn’t Celebrate Anyone’s Death”-Wakandan/Black proverb?

Let’s unpack this statement as it relates to this topic. There seems to be a general understanding that we should never speak ill of someone after they die. Their death marks a unique time and space that should be sacred and memorialized forever. I think that there are many issues with this line of thought, but I will only lightly poke at it. 

What happens when there is a wide chasm between celebrating someone dying and honoring their legacy? What happens when the things that we do in this life are magnified one hundredfold because of our status and our privilege/platform? What happens when we only have negative memories of someone? Must we play “devil’s advocate”? 

The understanding that we shouldn’t celebrate someone’s death seems to be undergirded by a particular sense of Christian ethics: Good Christians don’t celebrate someone dying; they mourn and honor.

Well…that’s not quite how things work, party people. The things that people say and do in life have a ripple effect as their actions impact others. I understand that it is difficult to hold the tension of honoring a person’s inherent worth while wrestling with the impact of harm that they caused. 

Perhaps, instead of policing the thoughts and emotions of those left behind, we should allow Kevin Samuels’ death (and the death of any controversial public figure) to call us to sober reflection. 

I know that many people are reeling from Samuels’ death, and no one more than his loved ones. 

I also think that Samuels’ life and his death have salted old wounds in Black communities across America. 

My sober reflection has been this: I want to live a life that honors the sacredness and dignity of all people. I want to strive to evolve, grow, and heal in such a way that when I die, there isn’t a trail of pain left in my wake. 

I didn’t know Kevin Samuels. I only know what he has produced. As a Black man who believes that all people are created in the image of God, I am sad that he is no longer on this earth. I pray that as I bear witness to his death and its ensuing turmoil, I will continue to ground myself in the love ethic that bell hooks was so famous for talking about. Amen.