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Dr. Cornel West: A Real-Life Superhero

Christine Passarella By

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Indeed, Cornel will tell you that he was able to walk his walk because of the love that was directed toward him through his parents, grandparents, siblings, Shiloh Baptist Church, and master teachers. He states, "I am who I am because somebody loved me, somebody cared for me, somebody targeted me." Armed with that guardian love, Cornel West went through his years as a student learning how to die in order to learn to live. That message is shared with students who enter his classroom every semester. Cornel examines his life in stages and when he feels the need for change in order to grow more towards an enlightened life he makes a shift. I believe John Coltrane would smile at his "brother" Cornel. Trane stated, "I believe that men are here to grow themselves into the best good that they can be—at least, this is what I want to do." Most recently Cornel was in Charlottesville, Virginia walking arm in arm with the faith leaders with his life literally on the line for love and justice. He took part in a peaceful counter protest against white supremacists this August. Dr. West informed me speaking from Charlottesville, "I have never experienced such hatred directed toward people. I am glad to be alive after the events of Friday and Saturday." He goes on to state that the other love warriors who were also in this struggle against hatred protected him and the faith leaders. "I was blessed to bear Coltranian witness, bearing it with A Love Supreme." Cornel will tell you that you just can't hope for a better world you must "be a hope" in the way you live your life.

He is an outstanding prophetic witness for African-Americans in the United States, and people all over the world especially the least of these. I witnessed this first hand on many occasions, but attending a Dalits Human Rights conference recently truly stands out in my mind. Tragically the Dalits are part of a caste system in India. Horrible discrimination against this group puts them in a category which was known as the untouchables. Dr. West was in Washington, D.C., to show his committed love for this group of people. It was evident they had a deep love and appreciation for him. Soon after that event, I attended his classes as a guest and listened to his magnificent lectures watching his students wrestle with the history of India studying Mahatma Gandhi's and Babasaheb Ambedkar's peaceful messages. To my surprise, guest speakers that semester included three Dalit women who courageously told their life stories to the university students in New York City. Cornel's love is universal and touches people of all backgrounds with devotion and service. So where does this Superman get his extraordinary love from and how is it sustained? It seems certain that his years in the West home back in Sacramento in which he learned how Jesus Christ shattered the customs of his time by loving the vulnerable and disenfranchised shape him daily.

Cornel West has been on the faculty of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Union Theological Seminary, and the University of Paris. He is presently back at Harvard where he holds a joint appointment at Harvard Divinity School and the department of African and African-American studies as a professor of the practice of public philosophy. And so it is, Dr. Cornel West is one of the leading academics, and grand public intellectual minds of the 21st century. He is the author of twenty books and edited thirteen. His book Race Matters is a classic, and recently published are Black Prophetic Fire and The Radical King. He has also created spoken word albums with major artists. The CD Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations stands out to me. A hauntingly painful photograph of precious African children on a slave ship is the image he chose for this body of work. Set to rhyme and rhythm we are "sent to school" through music. It includes tracks featuring Prince, KRS One, M1, Andre 3000, Jill Scott, Talib Kweli, Gerald Levert and other artists. Dr. West is committed to helping people join a caravan of love through his Coltranian journey. In the wee hours of the night Cornel West can be found sitting in his reading chair taking in the words of whatever great thinker interests him and page by page, he gives the author his undivided attention as the hours pass to the rising of the sun. Although Dr. West is indeed a great writer, teacher, and philosopher what impressed and influenced me was knowing that he is an extraordinary reader.


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