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An Evening with Dr. Cornel West



“Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself.”

On Thursday, February 28th, Rhode Island College (RIC) played host to Dr. Cornel West to close out their Black History Month events. “Dr. West is one of the foremost motivational speakers in this country. He is Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University and holds the title of Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. He has also taught at Union Theological Seminary, Yale, Harvard, and the University of Paris.” (per google search)

His speeches have enormous appeal and the crowd at RIC confirmed his popularity as he spoke to a packed and diverse auditorium of over 900 people.

Dr .West arrival was 30 minutes late, but the audience didn’t seem to be too impatient, especially when told that he was spending additional time with members of RIC’s minority community and several organizations who sponsored him including the multicultural student organization – Harambee, which is Kiswahili for “unity” or “stand together.”

The theme of the 90 minute event was one of love. Several times Dr. West honed in on the scripture and passages that emphasized love over hate and divisiveness. He spoke about empathy, saying, “Empathy is not simply a matter of trying to imagine what others are going through, but having the will to muster enough courage to do something about it.”

David Andrews, a Rhode Island activist and veteran had this to say:

“Dr. West brought a positive message in these divisive times, one of love and understanding. He has the extraordinary ability to reach out to all people and cause them to reflect on what should be most important to us all: our humanity.”

West spoke eloquently about the struggles of the African people, saying that they endured “400 years hated, but taught the world so much about love.”

He spoke about the history of music in the lives of African people and how that united them throughout the centuries. Whether it was as slaves in America, or as citizens in Harlem or New Orleans, whether it was Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, The Jacksons or Bobby James – music has been the soul to keep the message of love alive, regardless of the hardships that communities faced. West spoke about the ghetto vs the hood – the ghetto being places of community, where people watched after each other, their children and where there was peace –  vs the hood where there is little love and more pain.

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Dr. West did not give today’s times a pass. He spoke out against the tyranny of the United States and militarization and he said that he may be a man of peace, but not a pacifist and he believes that there are some situations where fighting is worthy & just. In particular, West mentioned Haiti and the attempted American Coup. Dr. West brought up the 2018 fascist march in Charlottesville and said that people must stand together to fight hate and racism.

A very poignant moment for me was when he spoke about the difference between a “problem” and a “catastrophe.” Occupation, he said, was catastrophic not a problem, lynching was catastrophic not a problem. For the students in the audience West addressed education. He focused on education as transformation and not just a place to fill up on books. The aim of college was to graduate wise, courageous and compassionate.

Finally, West spoke about Bernie Sanders, who he supported in the last presidential election, and Sanders’ long history of fighting for racial justice. West preached against the one percent and the massive inequality of wealth and he expressed the view that “reparations” is a buzzword used to score points.

After his presentation, West answered some questions from the audience with ease, honesty and thoughtfulness. To the delight of many, West took selfies and signed copies of his books which the school was distributing for free for Rhode Island College students.

About the Author

Lauren Niedel is currently a member of the RI Democratic State Committee - serving her 2nd term on the Platform Committee. She has been reelected for 2018-2022 session. She was also the State contact and delegate for the Bernie 2016 campaign.