Dr. Cornel West delivered the keynote address at Columbus State Community College’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Jan. 10.
By CHRIS BOURNEA
Columbus Oh -- Dr. Cornel West delivered the keynote address at Columbus State Community College’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Jan. 10.
West is one of the foremost African-American authors, scholars, cultural commentators and civil rights activists in the world. He is a professor at Princeton University and is the author of numerous critically acclaimed books, including the international best-seller “Race Matters.”
During his speech in Columbus State’s Conference Center Ballroom, West said he intended to break down myths about Dr. King and his legacy.
“I don’t want to sterilize Martin. I don’t want to sanitize Martin. I want to keep it funky,” West said in the hip-hop vernacular he is known for.
Although Dr. King is loved the world over as a champion of justice and peace, West pointed out that many of King’s stances were unpopular in his day. Some critics have accused Dr. King of being unpatriotic because of his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, but nothing could be further from the truth, West said.
“Was Martin anti-American? No, he was anti-injustice in America,” he said.
And though Dr. King is primarily known for his historic leadership in the civil rights movement, he had many other concerns, including poverty, inadequate education and pay inequity. West noted that King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while lending his voice to the struggle of Memphis sanitation workers for better pay and working conditions.
“That’s what I love about Martin Luther King. He was the real thing,” West said. “Any time you talk about him, he’s going to unsettle you.”
And while Dr. King was an advocate of education and worked to give African Americans access to the American dream, he encouraged Blacks who broke racial barriers and achieved success to never forget where they came from, West said.
“Martin’s concern was, what will you use your skills for? Never confuse success with greatness,” West said.
Before West took the podium, the Cornel West Theory band performed two songs that combine jazz, hip hop, R&B and spoken-word poetry. West formed the band to emphasize the importance of music to the arts, culture and society as a whole.
“I would not be a sane, free Black man without the music,” West said.
West noted that music was an essential part of the civil rights movement.
“There’s no Martin Luther King Jr. without Mahalia Jackson or Marian Anderson,” he said.
Looking back at the hard-won battles of Dr. King and other civil rights activists is important, especially for young people, West said.
“You’re not willing to move forward,” he said, “until you’re willing to look backward and see those who came before you.”