By LaVielle Hibbert
Some words seem to hit you with the force of a freight train—I don’t love you anymore; may I see your driver’s license—but eventually lose their impact. Others come at you just as hard, but as time goes by, instead of fading, they seem to carry more resonant significance.
That’s how I feel nearly two months after attending a speech by Dr. Cornel West at CSUDH. I knew heading into the Sept. 27 event, which was hosted by the Mervyn Dymally Institute, that Dr. West was a prominent and provocative intellectual, a Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, a philosophy professor at Harvard University, and the author of 20 books.
What I did not know was his passion to communicate to a vast variety of audiences in order to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. —
A video presentation about West was shown to the audience followed by a sincere and informational introduction by Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad and a welcome speech from CSUDH President Dr. Thomas Parham.
In his approximately 90-minute speech, Dr. West spoke with determination and enthusiasm while referencing politics, religion, music, freedom and empowerment. Reminiscing about his childhood, he said that we as a people need to give ourselves a critical examination. He gave a heartfelt insight on his personal memories with his parents:
“So, I begin on a personal note. The greatest honor I’ve ever had in my life has nothing to do with Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the University of Paris. It is being the second son of the late Clifton and the present Irene B. West and I would never ever be the man my father was, and I wish you [the audience] had a chance to meet him.”
The honor of his mother brought back memories of how his parents worked hard to achieve what they accomplished. He reflected on how it made him the man he is presently.
“I was just in Sac Town, Sacramento this weekend and they had a magnificent honoring of her [Irene B. West],” said Dr. West. “An elementary school that has been in place now for about 16 years but it was a recognition of her coming out of a tradition of Jim Crow Louisiana and made her way to the chocolate side of Sacramento called Glenn Abner and any time you see me or say something about me, try to see the mom and dad, the Irene and the Clifton in me, because I am who I am because somebody loved me.”
West continued to speak about how his parents taking the time out of their lives to show him love and affection inspired him through the trials and tribulations he went through to find himself and establish who he is as a person.
When the topic of education surfaced, he said educating oneself is one of the most important things anybody can do. However, he said being successful isn’t just achieving a degree and living a rich life. He said genuine success stems from the time taken out to teach and learn things from an institution that cares about making a change.
“I tell my students and I want to say to all of the precious and priceless students of all colors here in this grand institution, when you enter this institution, you are giving your professors license to allow you to learn how to die so you can learn how to live well.” Dr West said.
Some may ponder what he means by letting us let our professors teach us to learn how to die so we [students] can live well. What I took from his words is that it means that we have to learn how to mentally free our minds from bondage, including all of our preconceptions, in order to let those minds be capable of glimpsing and spreading truth.
West, who described himself as a revolutionary Christian, Jesus-loving, free Black man, mentioned some of the revolutionary inspirations that guided him along his way, such as Malcolm X, Bell Hook, James Baldwin and Audrey Lauren.
He later referenced multiple musicians like Lil Wayne, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, Aretha Franklin, and James Cleveland as examples of how they used music and instruments to channel their hurt and frustration from slavery, Jim Crow, segregation and white supremacy.
From sitting in the stands listening to this inspiring man speak about Black excellence and equality in education, I can say that a lot of his words inspired me and continue to inspire me today. Mostly, it was inspiration to not look at school as just a place to sit and have information drilled in my head. But to value school as a place where you can change your future and the way you think not only to benefit yourself in terms of a career, but to better society.
To hear Dr. West’s speech on DHTV, visit here.