West promotes Martin Luther King’s philosophy

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Cornel West addresses a capacity crowd at the Lenhart Grand Ballroom

Nearly 1,000 people packed into the Lenhart Grand Ballroom at the Bowen-Thompson Student Union Jan. 19 to hear Dr. Cornel West speak about the man Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He was not a god or a deity or a saint,” West said, but a man who was injected with love at an early age through his family, church and teachers who then had the confidence to go out and speak truth, no matter how uncomfortable. West pointed out that although today King is much loved and embraced and his legacy revered, in his own time he was not popular, even among a majority of blacks, because he refused to become comfortable with injustice and in an uncompromising but loving way challenged society to recognize the fundamental equality of all.

“He was an intellectual who used the life of the mind in the struggle for social justice,” West told an enthusiastic audience. Coming from the Christian tradition, King spoke against violence and in behalf of all the world’s poor and disenfranchised, not only black people.

“We need the solace and sacrifice of Martin Luther King now more than ever,” West said.

In a rousing address with references from the Greek philosophers to popular entertainers, West exhorted listeners to turn away from the materialism, “brand” consciousness, racism and militarism of today and instead ask themselves the key questions: “What does it mean to be human? What kind of people will we be?”

Though the struggle is never-ending, the stakes are high, West said, and noted that King would have encouraged us to keep trying and not give up. Quoting playwright Samuel Beckett, he said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

“Keep going,” he said. “Be the leavening in the loaf, that just keeps things expanding.”

Earlier in the day, West spoke to faculty and students in the Union Theater. Students had prepared for the meeting by reading the chapters he suggested from his book “Race Matters,” on Malcolm X and Black Nihilism.

He also met with members of his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha and members of the Diversity Team.