Though Anthony Mackie has only been Captain America for a few months, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” star is already seeing the impact the role is having on the next generation of young Black people.

“A friend of mine is a teacher down in Homestead, Florida, and she works with special needs kids,” Mackie tells Variety, explaining that, one day, the teacher found one of her students doing pull ups on the monkey bars. “She’s like, ‘What are you doing? You’re gonna hurt yourself.’ And the kid tells her, ‘Well, Captain America looks like me now, so I need to get in shape, if he needs my help.’ And I thought that was the coolest thing.”

“For this kid to see a six-hour series and get enough strength within himself to think that he needs to be prepared and ready, that made all of the work that we had to do to put it together worthwhile for me,” he adds.

The Marvel star is similarly humbled by the opportunity to play the ultimate soldier in Captain America, particularly the opportunity to focus on the human behind the shield.

In this exclusive conversation, Mackie joined General Charles Q. Brown Jr., Chief of Staff of the Air Force to discuss the importance of Black heroes, both real and fictional. While Mackie’s Sam Wilson is the first Black man to take up the mantle of Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Brown is the first African American to hold his position, making him the highest ranking Black general in the Air Force.

“Having family members, friends who have served and come back, that’s something that has always been important to me — showing soldiers in a respectful human light,” Mackie explains. “Sometimes I meet people like General Brown, and I’m like, ‘That guy’s not a human being, he’s a rock star,’ and you forget they’re actual humans and place them in a light where they’re not allowed to be. So that’s something that’s always been important to me — bringing humanity to the aspect of being a soldier.”

When watching “The Falcon and the Winter Solder,” Gen. Brown noted parallels between the character’s journey and his own experience ascending the military ranks.

“For a good portion of my career flying fighters, I was the only African American in my entire squadron,” Brown says. “And even today, when I go into meetings with my three and four stars, I am often the only African American in the room. I’m not representing all African Americans, I just bring an African American’s perspective into the meeting.”

But, with that role, there’s an added feeling of responsibility. “Ideally what you want to do is bring more of that in, and open more eyes and really have all of us work through this,” he continues. “Because this may be the only time they see someone like me at this level … you want to make sure you’re representing not just yourself, but all those that come behind you.”

In the Disney Plus series, Wilson wrestles with just that — what does it mean to have a Black man as Captain America? Ultimately, Wilson accepts the shield and assumes his new superhero identity, delivering a powerful speech in the show’s finale. That monologue was of particular importance to Mackie, who wanted to ensure that the scene captured the depth of Wilson’s complex decision, so he sat down with Malcolm Spellman (by whom “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” was created for television by, as well as the series’ exec. producer and head writer) — to really hammer things out.

“This is the moment where he becomes Captain America, so what’s his Captain America going to stand for?” Mackie explains. “Because he was a soldier, he was a caretaker of soldiers, a counselor, he’s not the guy who’s going to bust his way through problems.”

“The humanitarian side of him was something that I feel is his superpower, his ability to have empathy and sympathy for those around him is your superpower,” Mackie continues. “So that monologue was about him showing that if one of us is mistreated, we’re all to blame. And that’s the overall theme of the the new Captain America, not that not Black Cap, or Cap for the people, he’s Captain America for all.”

Brown made a similar decision to speak out. Shortly after the murder of George Floyd, the military veteran posted a powerful video sharing his experiences as a Black man in America and in the military. He was encouraged to share his feelings by his younger son, who was having a difficult time as a newly inflamed racial reckoning swept the country last summer. Brown says that watching Mackie’s speech as Captain America brought back a lot of the feelings he had while making his video, noting that there’s a great deal of power and responsibility that comes with being a Black man in a high-ranking position, whether it’s going into the military or being an actor.

“Young people don’t aspire to be what they’ve been exposed to,” Gen. Brown explains. “If they haven’t had a chance to see it, it’s kind of hard to say, I want to do that one day, you’re less inclined to do unless you have someone that looks like you that says, there is an opportunity there. And the fact that you have Anthony now, as Captain America, anybody can fill in any one of these roles. I’m sure he’s not willing to give over Captain America right now, but at some point, may hand the mantle off to somebody else. I think that’s an important aspect of being able to be a role model and opening doors for those that come behind us.”

Mackie agrees, saying the most important aspect of playing a role like Captain America is for kids to “see you’re real.” But, he notes, they also need to see Gen. Brown to balance that out.

Regarding his timeline to continue playing the character — who has a new “Captain America” film in the works — Mackie jokes: “I definitely don’t want to be a 55 year old Captain America, so I’ve got a solid six to eight [years] in me.”