When fans approach historian, educator, author and political activist, Dr. Cornel West, he makes one point very clear when they praise his “brand.”
“People come to me and say they love my brand, I don’t got no brand! A brand is something you market and strategize to sell; I have a cause, something I’m willing to live and die for!”
These words are just a small percentage of the wisdom from West that electrified the audience, as he was the keynote speaker at the Shirley Dixon Urban Education Symposium. The scale of this visit was hard to miss, from the number of individuals dressed in formal attire to the increased presence of police escorts hired for the big guest.
The event, which took place on Wednesday, April 27 in the Grace Hall Atrium, drew a packed audience. Sponsors, educational leaders, corporate leaders and people from across the nation and local community were in attendance that evening, as well as Cabrini faculty and students.
Homage and love being shown to Shirley Dixon throughout the event was a highlight, as her legacy with the education
department and her history outside of Cabrini is one that will be remembered forever.
Dixon’s contributions in working with the Philadelphia Housing Authority, teaching and serving as principal at Girard College boarding school in the city and being the first African American to join the Cabrini board of trustees, are only a few components of her life that made this event so special.
The Center of Urban Education, Equity, and Improvement took the charge of leading the event as it was hosted and moderated by Dr. Ronald W. Whitaker II, the assistant professor of the education department.
Educators across the community were awarded for their efforts, going above and beyond in inspiring the next generation, which indicates why they were labeled as the Moral and Courageous Leadership Awards.
West took the stage to a long standing ovation and even when things got quiet, he appeared far from it. Speaking in a spiritual, preacher-like nature with an unmatched energy as he appreciated everyone who helped put the night together was visible from the beginning.
Even with the older colleagues and professionals in attendance, West didn’t steer away from directing essential messages to the younger crowd. What’s important about this is that the future of this nation and any initiatives for better living, rests in the hands of the next generation.
“Don’t think a degree is going to make you a better ‘love warrior,’ you’re going to have to make some tough choices,” West said. “What’s important for young people is to be original; it’s OK to be inspired, but you can’t live your life copying what you think is going to get you the most attention.”
Even with his background in American history and education, his main ideas revolved around different facets of life that bring people together, rather than promoting division. One could get the sense that he felt as if his words needed to be understood before people can even get into technical breakdowns on improving the education system.
To West, this revolved around the idea of living life with love and genuine human connection. He believes that the poor condition of education in urban areas is a direct correlation of injustices that’s been alive for generations, that the people in power choose to give little attention to.
“When everyone thinks about the idea of gangsters in America they always say ‘let’s go look at these poor folk’ when in reality, we aren’t even looking at the issue that’s keeping people at the bottom,” West said.
“I followed Jesus into the temple and Jesus Christ never hated the people in power in the Roman empire, but he hated greed. He hated greed that kept institutionalized division from the fortunate and less fortunate, that is happening up to this day. The gangsters are truly at the top, manipulating things in their favor with little to no accountability,” he added.
“We’ve seen it many times with wall street, embezzlement, government scandals and corruption. They face small justice when they get caught doing something that is blatantly giving them more power and doing nothing for the ones at the bottom. When this greed is manifested at the top, is when injustice is allowed, because let that be a young man or woman in the inner city that committed some crime to meet end’s meet, then harsher jail sentences are what’s more expected.”
This becomes an issue as we are still in a state in this country where there are still conversations surrounding low quality education and inadequate housing in urban areas.
“For example, when it comes time to fight these wars, the budget seems to be limitless, but it’s always a debate if the proper federal funding is useful towards elements of human life like education and healthcare,” West said.
To refrain from a governmental level, West began to talk again in a humane nature about the state of today’s society. He reminisced about past decades, where less fortunate people were inspired by civil rights figures and other celebrities of all kinds. What’s essential about this is that many influencers used to do their work for the service and joy of their supporters, when now more do it to look as popular as possible, as we see across social media platforms.
“Materialism, celebrity, popularity and money is what people strive for today,” West said. “This is why we see the increase in cases of depression and suicide in this generation because of how people become infatuated with what they don’t have and how they don’t look.”
It bothers him how in this capitalist society, people care the most about how much money a person has and how this supposedly makes people more credible to say and do certain things.
“Just like how they did MLK when he was assassinated, the ones at the top don’t want people growing up seeing how much they can love and care the deepest, they want them growing up feeding into the market and seeing how much they can win as an individual to society’s standards,” West said.
What made West’s words fascinating to the ones in attendance, is how it directly connects with his personality, with how the humility he projects to his supporters is what defines him.
After his long speech, West took questions from the crowd, which Whittaker moderated. After the event, West made sure to stay after to talk to anybody who wanted to come up to speak with him as he stood off stage, giving everyone a couple minutes of his time.
He stressed how all he truly wants from everyone is to truly be themselves, live with a will to love and impact one another and to not feed into what the elite wants us to, which creates desires to simply be a spectacle in the eyes of the public.
“Everyone wants to show themselves off like a peacock in today’s world saying ‘look at me look at me look at me’ — but like my grandmother said, peacocks strut because they can’t fly.”