Dr. Cornel West: A Real-Life Superhero

Christine Passarella By

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This is a man who does not waste a moment of time as he has work to do. He sleeps just to charge his body so he can get on the move once again. Cornel is much like a jazz musician because of his dedication to his instrument which is his intellectual voice and it opens us to what lives in the heart and soul. He is in many different cities in a week to share his love and leadership. Educating from the podium he calls out, "You cannot lead the people if you do not love the people." His range is global and no place is too far for him to spread his love supreme. Most recently he was in Australia and India, but within days back in the United States to share his powerful words in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells and James Baldwin.

John Coltrane composed the stunningly emotional suite A Love Supreme which tells us about God and love. Dr. West is drenched in A Love Supreme. John Coltrane and Cornel have much in common, and it starts with a love for black people. Through their magnificence, we are informed, as we are enriched by their creative and exemplary journeys of superior expression and courage. Both Cornel and Coltrane come from a blues people who taught the world how to love even in the face of the catastrophic racism in America, and through that love brought profound change. It would be safe to say that the spirit of Coltrane guides Dr. West to keep rising and becoming. Trane tells us, "There are always new sounds to imagine, new feelings to get at. And always, there is the need to keep purifying these feelings and sounds so that we can really see what we've discovered in its pure state. So that we can see more and more clearly what we are. But to do that at each stage, we have to keep on cleaning the mirror." Examining life for anyone could be difficult, but for the public intellectual, philosopher and love warrior it is exactly what energizes him to continue on searching for truth. Coltrane wanted to speak to the souls of the people in his audiences, so does Dr. West. The best of black music floats through the air waves of wherever Cornel may be. It could be at the jazz club in any major city, or even as he drives down a highway to his next speaking engagement listening to Sirius Radio tuning into jazz, rhythm and blues including some Frank Sinatra.

He also has an affection for European classical music as well, so did John Coltrane. For Trane, it was Stravinsky who is high on his list and for Cornel, it is Beethoven. But it is a fact, West's love affair with the music of black people is what nourishes him. Coltrane and Cornel show us in many ways that we grow from challenges. He like Coltrane refused to have his inner voice squelched in any way. Comfort for Dr. West is listening to Trane playing "After the Rain," "Dear Lord," "My Favorite Things," "Naima," "Body and Soul," and A Love Supreme then switching to James Brown, the Delfonics, Atlantic Star, Luther Vandross, the Dramatics, the Isley Brothers, Curtis Mayfield, Nina Simone and it goes on and on. The exemplary music from his deep roots cultivates him with a force field.

One of his treasures is an exquisite framed photo with musician and spiritual leader Alice Coltrane smiling taken at her last concert in New Jersey. Mrs. Coltrane saw in Cornel a man who was leading through passion and love like her dear departed husband. Alice Coltrane believed the arts transcend limited social boundaries like class, race, and nationality. Cornel not only treasures this experience with John's deeply spiritual widow, experiences like this protect and project him. In John Coltrane's musical genius and Dr. West's written and oral language, you will hear soothing soulful love, but you must be ready for the dissonance that could change the way you feel and think. Cornel hears and feels as a modern- day philosopher his understanding of the world growing through his 64 years in America. Coltrane preached at times through the music which was his artistic gift to mankind. He expressed, "My goal is to live the truly religious life and express it through my music. If you can live it, there's no problem about the music, because it's part of the whole thing." Dr. West has mentored many men and women. By touching their lives, this American hero empowers others to reach great heights. But Cornel is never in one place for too long. Just like Clark Kent, he can turn into a superman in an instant as he figuratively jumps out the window, and literally flies to the next venue to hug and encourage the people. He is a democratic socialist drenched in the blood of the Christian cross, but at times it is hard to peg him ideologically as he follows his own path. I asked him what message he would give to the youth. "When one puts their body on the line it is to be made vulnerable, and vulnerability is constitutive of A Love Supreme."


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