On a well-publicized trip to Pasadena Community College, famed Princeton Professor and Author Cornel West brought his message of hope for racial minorities and the poor to a group of approximately 1,000 students and members of the community on Dec. 5.
Using his fiery and captivating oratory style, West rallied the “courage to think” independently and at the same time railed against white supremacy, male supremacy and American imperialism. “We need societal examination,” West emphatically said.
Quoting from Plato, Malcolm X and Jesus, West delved into many political and philosophical issues in his two-hour lecture titled “Restoring Hope.” His passionate, eccentric speakinging style has become one of his trademarks. One moment he is inches from the microphone, tightly gripping the podium with both hands and the next moment he has stepped back from the podium, whispering slowly and stroking his beard philosophically.
“Democracies are fragile,” said West. “Every generation must fight to keep it and often expand it.”
The provocative black speaker speaks frankly and considers himself the champion of the “fragile black middle class.” He is insistent that America never forget its history of racism against blacks, telling the largely black audience that society can no longer “escape through history and hide the death in your midst.”
In one of his more blunt statements, West used to word “nigger” in describing the inhumane way blacks have been treated. At first this drew stunned gasps from the audience, which almost immediately turned to supportive applause.
West successfully kept the crowd riled up, drawing raucous applause, laughter and “that’s right, that’s right” from the almost capacity crowd.
In regards to the value system in the United States, West joked that “we have gone from `let freedom ring’ to `bling, bling,'” joked West. While black equality seems to be his number one issue, West continually trumpeted the importance of independent thinking and the value of a good education. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” said West.
Calling people brother and sister, West encouraged the students in the crowd to work and fight hard to overcome “evil attitudes that lose sight of other people.” He stressed the importance of being involved with groups of people working for racial equality.
West touched on a variety of topics and even took questions from the audience for one hour after his speech. He denounced the Iraq War as American imperialism, politicians for listening to money rather than constituents, the U.S. “market way of life,” the lack of fathers in the black community, Thomas Jefferson’s “white supremacist constraints” and “gangsters of any color.”
“He has a lot of intellectual honesty,” said Pasadena resident Ronnie Vindel, 21, who like West wants to see a lot of change “between the races.”
West incorporated many subjects into his speech but always returned to his central idea that “only a new wave of visions, courage and hope can keep us sane and preserve the decency and dignity requisite to revitalize our organizational energy for the work to be done.” He called on students, teachers and neighbors alike to become active in groups fighting for racial equality.
“Many of you have the courage and magnitude to be able to sacrifice to keep this democracy and steal it from the mouth of the imperialists,” admonished West.
West’s outspokenness and long tenure in academia has drawn a heavy following and his popularity made him a difficult speaker to bring to the local college. The college spent almost a year trying to bring West to the campus, according to PCC’s local NAACP President Chad Hunter. Students and community residents lined the halls of PCC’s Sexson Auditorium 90 minutes before the lecture was scheduled to start.
“He has a lot of knowledge in a lot of arenas,” said PCC’s Black Student Alliance President Caprice Rowland. “It was enlightening for all races.” Rowland, 22, introduced West and after the lecture said that he “surpassed” her expectations.
The Cross Cultural Center and the Black Student Alliance cosponsored the lecture, and many of the groups’ volunteers were on hand to assist as ushers and security officials.
Prior to speaking at PCC, West sent tremors through America’s higher education institutions with a high-profile switch from Harvard University to Princeton University. In his brief mention of the subject, West said he did not blame anyone and that Harvard’s president, who was the main reason West left Harvard, was “only human.”
Author of 16 books including “Race Matters” and “The Cornel West Reader,” West also speaks throughout the country and appears with Tavis Smiley on his National Public Radio broadcast “The Tavis Smiley Show.” Smiley was on hand to mediate the question-and-answer session that followed West’s lecture.
“[West] is an excellent speaker and he seemed to have all the answers,” noted Jamil Green, 19. “My respect for him grew a lot.”