I'm black. I live in the whitest city in America. So I left town to see 'Black Panther.'

"Where are you off to tonight?" my Lyft driver asked.

"Wakanda," I said under my breath.


"Excuse me?"

"The movies," I said. "Black Panther."

I got up, rolled out my suitcase, dropped my dog off at daycare, and flew 965 miles to Los Angeles to see "Black Panther."

It wasn't a star-studded premiere. It wasn't a sneak preview or special showing with a Q&A. It was simply a 3D show at the Baldwin Hills Cinemark I selected for one specific reason: I wanted to watch "Black Panther" with other black people.

Allow me to back up.

Image via Marvel Studios.

I live in Portland, Oregon.

It's a beautiful city. The air is clean and the donuts are plentiful, but it is very white. Because I work from home and live in a mostly white neighborhood in the whitest city in America, I can sometimes go a full week without seeing another black person in my daily interactions.

While my neighbors are, for the most part, well-meaning white people, they're still white. I still get curious stares at the fancy grocery store and literal head tilts at the dog park. What can I say? White people gonna white.

When I heard about "Black Panther," I knew this would be a film for the ages, but maybe more for me than my neighbors.

If you're unfamiliar with the actual plot of the film or the comics it's based on,  here's a rapid-fire recap: Following the death of his father, King T'Chaka, Prince T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) becomes King of Wakanda and Black Panther. Wakanda is a technologically advanced nation in Africa, whose innovation is fueled by vibranium, a powerful metal found deep in the mountains.

To preserve the rich resource and protect its citizens, Wakanda hid itself from the outside world, presenting as a rural, developing farm country. As T'Challa assumes the throne, he is challenged by foes determined to destroy his country and its beautiful legacy. So he teams up with his badass team of lady special forces, the Dora Milaje, and the CIA to stop it.

While "Black Panther" does not feature the first black superhero and it's not the first black movie on the big screen, this film is something altogether different. With the Disney and Marvel money machine working overtime, "Black Panther" has the production and marketing budget most films with majority-back casts only dream of. It was also co-written and directed by black people, Joe Robert Cole and Ryan Coogler, who are the personification of young, gifted, and black.

Image via Marvel Studios.

Uh, black people kicking ass and taking names to protect their African technological utopia? Yes, please. I knew if I wanted to experience this with people who deeply understood what a unique and affirming film this would be, I couldn't see it in Portland. Sure, there would be fans, but something would be missing.

When tickets went on sale a few weeks ago, I bought one for the 8 p.m. show in Los Angeles ... then checked on flights.

I selected the Cinemark at Baldwin Hills because the community is almost the exact inverse of my own.

Just a two-hour plane ride and a short drive from my home is the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw neighborhood in the southern part of L.A. It's home to more than 32,000 people. 71% are black, with Latinx and Asian people both ahead of white people by the numbers.

I went inside the large theater and took it all in. As I snaked through the popcorn line, a little black boy practiced his Black Panther fighting moves on the velvet ropes. The adults with him smiled warmly and took pictures of the TV screen displaying the movie times. Just seeing Black Panther's name on a run-of-the-mill flat screen was enough to celebrate.

I buzzed with anticipation and treated myself to an Icee. Black Panther would want me at my sugary best.

As the room filled, I took a very unofficial census and noticed my theater was about 90% black with a handful of Latinx people and three white people.

The vibe was less, "opening night at the movies" and more "family reunion." There were big hugs. Run-ins with old friends, barbecue chicken snuck in inside a purse, and some pretty awesome looks. (The release of "Black Panther" has inspired many people to break out their African prints, donning gowns, geles, and bold shirts. To be clear, these pieces and prints aren't costumes. They're culture. There's an entire hashtag dedicated to it. Spider-man could never.)

The film started abruptly after a few credits rolled and I was suddenly nervous. What if it couldn't live up to the hype? What if I'd pinned too much on a simple movie?

Fortunately, I had not.

And seeing the film with black people only heightened the entire experience.

We clapped. A lot. Did Chadwick Boseman come on screen? Clap for him! Did a black woman just beat someone's ass? Give her a round of applause. Did the white man say something silly? Give him a golf clap for being a decent ally.

We let out big belly laughs and ducked and winced in pain when T'Challa took his licks. We were a part of something bigger than a blockbuster budget or a late night showing. We were in on something together, fighting right alongside our blackity-black-black hero. We celebrated the black excellence on-screen, loud and proud. Because we finally had the space and opportunity to do so.

Image via Marvel Studios.

There was something monumental about seeing a black man and the fierce women who protect him fighting to preserve and defend their country and culture against those out to destroy them.

I felt an almost instinctual urge to protect Black Panther, both the character and the film, not just from the villains who would do him harm, but the world at large. To shield him from those who don't understand why we need a black superhero in the first place. To safeguard him from the people who roll their eyes when we clap and cheer and get our lives for a near-perfect two hours. To secure him from a world where black boys can yell out his name and are met not with "Shhhh," but a handful of women across the room cheering, "That's right, baby" like an "amen" in church.

I still want to protect him, and this film, because I know that in the real world, there are people who want nothing more than to crush our joy, steal our spirit, and limit our dreams.

But ultimately, he doesn't need my help. Black Panther, hero and film, are more than strong enough to stare down super villains and everyday haters. And if he's not — if it's all too much — the fierce community behind him has his back.

Image via Marvel Studios.

When the film ended, we clapped once more and the lights came up.

I took a few deep breaths, not wanting to forget a thing. People gathered their empty popcorn tubs and walked to the exit, a little bouncier, heads a little higher. The film just has that effect on you. I wondered if white people felt like this walking out of every other movie. Visibility is a bigger privilege than they'll ever realize.

A new Lyft driver picked me up and I slid over in the seat.

"Did you just come from 'Black Panther'?" she asked.

"Yes, I did."

"Oh my God, how was it?" she said.

I stared longingly at the wave of smiling black faces walking out of the movie theater and into the night, a fitting end to an evening in our own private Wakanda.

"I can't wait to go back."

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."