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Dr. Cornel West: A Real-Life Superhero

Christine Passarella By

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This column focuses on the lives of people searching for and finding a human connection inspired by the life and music of the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane. Trane was a spiritual, gifted jazz musician dedicated to loving people through his heart which exquisitely came out of his instrument. I have come to discover that there are presently many people who are influenced by him even decades after his passing. This column will make an attempt at answering the question: "How does one live a Coltranian life?" I define this as a quest to live in truth, with a love for humanity, a strong bounce back when life knocks you down, a dedication to a calling and or passion, and without a doubt the unwavering desire to courageously be who you were meant to be, not just an echo, but an original masterpiece.

"I want to be a force for real good. I know that there are bad forces, forces that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be the opposite force. I want to be the force which is truly for good." —John Coltrane

I first met philosopher Cornel Ronald West when he was speaking at an event focusing on moral courage at New York University in 2013. It was there that I discovered we both had a sacred and devotional love for master musician and spiritual giant John Coltrane. Dr. West soon became a mentor to me and close ally. Frequenting jazz clubs in New York City with Cornel is eye opening and life transforming. Jazz musicians have a deep bond with him. It does not matter if he met them before. The love and respect are palpable. He knows the musicians through the creative and passionate music and their artistic lives, and they know him through his prophetic witness, extraordinary mind, and sensitive heart. It is quite exquisite to see firsthand such warmth through the understanding of a shared enriched African-American culture. He stands on Sankofa which is to recognize the past before going forward. His work weaves the intense struggle and the highest standards of excellence from black people in America. It spreads the message from the Black National Anthem to lift every voice. His message is to love people of all colors. Standing next to West and the jazz musicians, you can almost feel the spirits of their ancestors in the room wrapping them in the knowledge of the past to empower this beautiful brotherhood and sisterhood. As you get to know Dr. West, you see a gem of a man who is a multifaceted dazzling treasure. He is a superman in these troubled times who continues to be a force for good. He brings his courage to the people. Through him, we examine our history and explore possibilities for a new paradigm.

Cornel West is dedicated and loyal to the life of the mind and the world of ideas. This is evident in the thousands of books that are in his personal library in his home. What is most important is the quality of the content of his reading material which is embedded in his mind. He is also surrounded by the deepest music this world has to offer. Wrestling with disconcerting ideas and philosophical thought came to him when he was a little boy in Sacramento, California. In his elementary school years, he dove into an existentialist way of thinking aware of the fragility of life, grappling with nonexistence. While in high school, he was class president, a champion athlete and played first violin in his high school orchestra. Raised in a loving and disciplined home Cornel is the second son of the late Clifton West and the very vibrant and deeply loving Irene B. West. I had the sincere pleasure of visiting the beautiful ranch style home of Mrs. West a former school teacher, and principal with an elementary school named after her in California. I am a teacher as well, and we saw eye to eye knowing that the answers for peace on earth may come to fruition by loving, enlightening and caring for the children. It was evident early on that Clifton and Irene West had a genius amongst their precious and talented four children. It was also made known to her through a deep personal spiritual belief and that of her church community from his birth Little Ronnie, as he was called back then, was chosen in a divine way to do great work for the people. Tender family photos cover the living room and family room walls accompanied by university degrees from all the West family members. Cornel has grown into one of this country's most sought after professors and motivational speakers and the demand to be in his presence is even more magnified in 2017. And yet with all this acclaim, the honor he holds highest is being part of his family of origin.


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