Cornel West says it like he sees it!
This evening I was one of the privileged few hundred (300 were turned away for lack of room) who heard--more like experienced--Dr. Cornel West speak at the Main Branch of the Detroit Public Library. He was scheduled to read from his 2004 book, "Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism," but the events of the past weeks coupled his obvious delight at speaking to a predominantly African-American audience in the city he calls, "The Cultural Capitol of Black America" sent him off on an amazing journey into truth-telling, risk-taking and soul-searching that brought forth "Amen!", "Tell it, brother!" and assorted vocal affirmations that reminded me of revivals I used to attend back in the '80s when I was a member of a Black church on Rosa Parks Blvd. in Detroit. His talk was a wondrous mix of revival, political rally and university classroom. What follows are just a few of the words, phrases and sentences I managed to jot down as he spoke:
"It wasn't a big step from the slave ships to the living hell of the Superdome."
"What we have now is Social Darwinism--the survival of the slickest."
Regarding race relations, he said, "Some folks say we've got to build bridges. I say we've got to tell it like it is before we can build any bridges."
"They say we're always playing the race card...Heck, the whole deck is full of them!"
"When it comes my time to go, I want to go with a smile of integrity on my face."
Speaking of the youth, he said, "What would America look like if the creativity in their music were brought to the struggle for justice!"
"If there's a fundamental flaw among Black Americians and Americans at large, it's that we don't have enough people of courage."
He was saying that it does no good if he just struts around Princeton showing off. "Peacocks strut because they can't fly. We come from a people who fly!"
"What we need is leadership with no ego; leaders willing to say, 'I decrease as the movement increases."
Speaking of the history of slavery, he said, "The Union won the war. The Confederacy won the peace."
"Today's young folk ask 'Where are the examples of greatness?' They don't see greatness; they see success. If you're successful, I ask, 'What are you using your success for?"
"I say take [your history] out of the books and take it to the streets!"
"The tradition I'm talking about has to do with hope. Not optimism, but hope. They're totally different."
He spoke of the brutal murder of 14 year-old Emmett Till and his mother's courageous insistence that people see it like it was, how 50,000 people filed by Emmett's casket that his mother insisted remain open. He told of her refusal to hate and seek revenge, her saying,"I don't have a minute to hate. I'll pursue justice for the rest of my life." Dr. West said that was how we in America needed to respond to examples of violent hatred like those we experienced on September 11, 2001.
When asked about the risks to him personally of speaking truth, he answered, "Freedom is not free." He then told of the death threats he receives and the time his wife had a gun put to her head. He finished by saying, "Some of us must love enough to be willing to die."
--posted by Patricia