For the 10th annual installment of the Voices of Color Lecture Series honoring C. Christine Jonson, former director of the Higher Education Opportunities Program at Hamilton, the campus community was invited to share their evening with Dr. Cornel West, a renowned academic and social justice advocate who gave a lecture to a packed house in Wellin Hall.
West began his talk by thanking many members of the crowd for inviting him to campus. He had the opportunity during the day to meet and speak with many members of the campus community and he mentioned how for all the several times he’s visited Hamilton, he’s learned he can always expect generous hospitality and a good time. After giving thanks, Dr. West moved into his larger talk which he prefaced by expressing his hope that it would be, at least to some extent, unsettling, unnerving or even “unhousing” to listeners. To summarize the larger message of the evening, Dr. West expanded upon Hamilton’s motto of “know thyself” and quoted Socrates to point out that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
Although West is a self-described Democratic intellectual, his talk went beyond simple partisan politics. He spoke more broadly of the transition each human being goes through from “womb to tomb” and asked how we might each wish to be remembered. Is it better to measure one’s self by financial wealth, West asked, or by service to the community?
In addition, he spoke about how each of us harbors more than we show on the surface. Identifying himself as a black, Christian, male long committed to fighting for social justice, West admitted even he has elements of white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and sexism inside of him and that it is only through long self-reflection that he, or anyone else, can truly become their full person. Pulling in quotes from a wide range of philosophers and theologians, West reminded the audience that we all strive to carry on the best of the past, but that we must embrace the full breadth of the past in order to allow this process to be complete.
Throughout his lecture West also gave a great example of what it means to be an effective and engaging speaker. He used his podium as a stage, making dramatic movements and gestures that added emphasis to his clear enunciations and articulations of a complex vernacular. Even for those in the audience who may not have agreed with every point West made, it can hardly be argued that he did not represent highly effective speaking skills.
After finishing his talk West was gracious enough to take a series of questions from the audience. In response to members of the audience, he gave his opinions on recent debate over military drones, poverty in the United States and the famous rapper Jay-Z owning a share of the Brooklyn Nets.