I was surprised on Friday evening to hear that Yvette Wilson lost her battle with cervical cancer. Like many people, I remembered her as the popular supporting character Andell from Moesha and The Parkers. Those were two shows that I watched regularly throughout my adolescence. It was disturbing to hear that a woman who had such a strong career was in need of financial donations in order to pay her mounting medical bills. Indeed, Yvette Wilson’s financial state at the time of her death serves as a painful reminder of the fleeting nature of fame. When she lost her health, she lost everything–literally. Prior to her death, Wilson was also in line for a kidney transplant after experiencing kidney failure. She was only 48. Thankfully, least she is no longer suffering.
As surprised as I was to hear about Yvette Wilson’s death, I was even more surprised to hear that Rodney King had died yesterday after being found at the bottom of an LA swimming pool. He was known best as the catalyst for the LA riots in 1992 after police were acquitted of charges stemming from his brutal beating. Unfortunately, his life never seemed to turn around. He had several stints in jail and rehab and found himself unable to escape his past demons. He was only 47.
Both of these deaths made me reflect on the fact that life can end at any second–even for people who are in the public eye. I do not claim to know the religious backgrounds of either of these individuals, but my own religious convictions tell me that God has a purpose for everything. Yvette Wilson’s death has already brought a lot of attention to the cancer epidemic in the African American community. Although cervical cancer is usually treatable (and often preventable) with the right medical care, African Americans are less likely than other ethnic groups to seek timely medical treatment. The same is true of hypertension, colon cancer, breast cancer, type II diabetes, and many other medical conditions that are prevalent among African Americans. One major factor that complicates this matter is the fact that many impoverished populations do not have adequate healthcare access due to insufficient (or nonexistent) health insurance coverage. After all, medical bills can be expensive.
Even though Rodney King’s incident occurred over 20 years ago, his story of police brutality is still relevant. Racial profiling is still real and the police still have a reputation for using excessive force on minorities. However, Rodney King’s legacy reminds us of what can happen when protests go too far. Many rioters destroyed their own neighborhoods when protesting the verdict in King’s case. While the largest riot took place in the Los Angeles area, many smaller riots took place around the country. This is especially problematic when considering that many urban centers including Camden, Detroit, and Chicago are still recovering from the effect of the numerous riots that took place in the 1960s and 1970s. As a result, protesters inadvertently gave this country’s overt and covert racists more excuses to support the LAPD’s actions by citing the violent behavior of African Americans within their own communities. It’s not coincidence that after the LA riots, the majority of this country’s large-scale protests have been nonviolent and well-coordinated (ie Trayvon Martin, the Jena 6).
Let’s be sure to keep the families of Yvette Wilson and Rodney King in prayer as they go through this difficult time.