Vonree G. Nelson • Professor C. Lawson • CO100 • 26 MARCH 2010
Dr. Cornel West has been called the W.E.B. Du Bois of this generation. The African American scholar is a best-selling author, philosopher, critic, actor, blues man, and outspoken civil rights activist. West preaches a message of love and equality amongst all religions, colors, castes, creeds, sexes, and sexualities. He refers to everyone as his “dear brother” or “dear sister”. West is a prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America, and describes himself as a non-Marxist socialist. He is frequently invited to share his political perspective on tv and radio. Names like John Coltrane, Herman Melville, Malcom X, The Black Panther Party, Dr. King, Du Bois, Karl Marx, and Ralph Waldo Emerson among others are found on his eclectic list of influences. West has earned more than 20 honorary degrees, and is widely cited in the popular press. He challenges his audience to question socratically, think critically, and stand against injustice. He is currently serving as Class of 1943 Professor at Princeton University where he teaches African American Studies.
Cornel Ronald West was born the 2nd of June 1953 in Tulsa Oklahoma. He was raised in Sacramento where his mother was a teacher and his father worked for the Department of Defense. His upbringing was humble and Christian. His mother instilled in him a passion for education at a very young age. Before he reached his teenage years, West developed such a voracious appetite for knowledge that his parents would frequently have to take his glasses from him at night to get him to stop reading and go to bed. By the time he was 17 years old, West was enrolled in Harvard, where he graduated magna cum laude only 3 years later with degrees in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. His career began in his mid-twenties when he became an assistant professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Soon after, West would earn his PhD at Princeton in 1980.
West communicates with his entire body. He sways from side to side, front to back, and his maestro like hand gestures seem to direct the symphony of words that he is speaking. His accompanying facial expressions are dramatic and mesmerizing. West even sends a message with his attire. He wears a black 3 piece suit with a white shirt and black tie 365 days of the year. West explains that he was deeply influenced by the style of clothing worn by Preachers and Blues Men. When describing the symbolism of the color black, he alludes to the words of a character named Marsha from his favorite author Anton Chekhov’s Masterpiece 3 Sisters. “I am in mourning for the world,” he recites. “I have a sad soul and a cheerful disposition. I can be up, but deep down I am still trying to come to terms with the suffering of not only myself, not only of my loved ones, but of those all around the world.” In his Memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, West makes light of the fact that his wardrobe is not unlike that of a funeral director.
When speaking, West often begins making his point using common language or even Ebonics, luring his audience in with an unpretentious and cool bluesman swagger only to seamlessly transition into more intellectual rhetoric. He expresses himself in such a manner that his audience can understand what he has said, even if they are unfamiliar with some of the large vocabulary words he so effortlessly employs. He commands and then holds the attention of his audience by gradually building up the intensity of his delivery. His monologues often come to a climax with him stringing together an impressive combination of multi-syllable words. Using his body language to communicate in tandem with a voice that is at once passionate and calm, meek but strong, West has an uncanny ability to convey cerebral concepts and messages to common people who may not share his extensive educational background.
West uses a variety of mediums to reach his audience. As an Ivy League professor, Dr. West lectures in classrooms packed with the best and brightest from Princeton University. West has also previously held appointments at Union Theological Seminary, University of Paris, Haverford College, Yale, and Harvard, often serving on the faculties of more than one institution at the same time. During his tenure at Harvard, West was in such demand as an educator that the university had to rent out a church to accommodate the overwhelming number of students seeking his tutelage. As a best-selling author, he has written more than 20 books, and frequently appears on a plethora of talk shows on radio and television. As a self-proclaimed blues man, West recently released a spoken word Hip Hop Album called Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations. The album boasts features from luminaries ranging from Tavis Smiley and Micheal Eric Dyson to Andre 3000, KRS-1, Talib Kweli, and Prince. Fans of the Matrix trilogy will also remember West in his role as “Councilor West” in both The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. West’s presence in all major forms of mass media is consistent with his reputation as a renaissance man.
Dr. West is a gifted communicator blessed with the ability of a Baptist preacher to inspire hope and enthusiasm. He delivers his sentiments with the eloquence of a poet, and backs up his talking points with concrete examples. He harbors a perpetual righteous indignation against injustice anywhere, and continues to champion human rights and equality in all of his endeavors.