At the Heart of it All/What Komla Might Want from Us

I feel strange writing this piece today. It’s been four days since Komla Dumor’s passing, and in this Western society in which I’m firmly planted, I’m supposed to be over the shock by now. But I’m not. When someone of importance dies, we talk about it for a few days (or in some cases a few hours), mourn for an “acceptable” amount of time, and then go back to talking about the antics of the rich and stupid on Real Housewives, or Vanderpump Rules,  or politics, or whatever one’s daily cup of poison may contain. It seems to me that the “acceptable” time of mourning is getting ever shorter with so many items competing for our attention.

This is why it feels so strange to write this post today. I can’t seem to move on or get past Komla’s death as quickly as some of the people in my circle seem to have done. I can’t conform to these new rules! But then I pause and consider: Maybe Komla might want me to?

I’ve spent the last four days poring over tributes that have poured in from across the world. It’s amazing to see that at just 41, Komla Dumor touched so many lives and affected people in such a positive way. Someone summed up what I have been struggling to conceive in my heart: He was the big brother you never knew you had, and just when you got a chance to meet and love him, he’s gone. I have yet to read any negative expression where Komla is concerned. None of us is perfect – and I’m sure he would certainly never claim faultlessness – but he is in my humble opinion an impeccable example of what the pursuit of perfection looks like.

I believe he would all have us do the same; that is pursue excellence and compete at your own best level in whatever it is you have chosen to do with your life. I think for those of us who are looking for ways to honor him, this would be the best course of action. They say Komla was a man of great faith, and this is borne out in his many motivating Facebook posts and tweets concerning his trust in God and his gratitude for all that he had been blessed with. Certainly he had much to be thankful for: an envious career, a beautiful family and the adoration of his many fans across the continent. But having lived with Black men my entire life, I know that none of these things came without some sort of cost. A man of his stature, build and coloring (and by that I mean big and black) living in the UK would have faced prejudice at on or many junctures, but you never got the sense that it got him completely down. I think Komla had love for his enemies, which is why he died with more admirers than he did adversaries. Matthew 5 says in part:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

If those are the requirements for “perfection” then I’d say he got top marks. Again, I have yet to hear a solitary disparaging word spoken against him or that he had spoken against someone else…not counting primary school yard insults. Who can get through life in Ghana without screaming “Your MODDA!” at least once?

It was reported that Komla died of cardiac arrest in his sleep and that his blood pressure was a concern. Heart disease is the 10th leading cause of death in Ghana, and yet it is one of the least talked about and most neglected illnesses in the country today. With so much focus on “brand recognizable” diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria, chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease get swept to the side. I clearly recall several men dying of hypertension when I was young, but I don’t have a clear memory of any sort of media campaign to stem the flow of these deaths.

Studies have shown that before age 50, men of African descent’s heart failure rate is 20 times higher than that of men of European descent, yet they are least likely to pursue or receive treatment. On the continent the reasons are varied, and are fraught with problems including access, availability and affordability of decent healthcare. Living in the UK, Komla Dumor was in a better position to receive quality healthcare, but I get the sense he didn’t make the time to do so. The man was dedicated to his craft…was it that dogged dedication that was his undoing in the end? Only God and his doctor know for sure.

Komla-ftSo what might Komla want for us all who would seek to honor his memory and legacy? Each of us will make up our own mind about that, but I think he’d want us to find balance and honesty. Have an honest discussion about the real issues affecting people on the African continent; not just what’s considered “sexy” by the media. Let’s start talking about heart disease and high blood pressure, and how it disproportionately affects our people. Let’s continue to tell the African story as seen from African eyes and spoken through African lips. Let’s pursue excellence and perfection, yes, but let’s make sure we are assigning proper weight and importance to those things that deserve it.

It took you from us in the end, but we thank you for your big heart, Komla. Thank you for sharing your gift with the world.