Pacific Ballroom, Friday, Feb. 4. A large crowd gathered in the auditorium as hundreds of excited voices filled the room with a lively din. Everyone sat waiting for the guest speaker’s entrance. Tall, draping banners of red, yellow and green hung from the walls as an audio clip played to open the lecture.
“The struggle goes on,” the voice declared. “The story must be told and retold. Every generation must be connected to that story to be linked to that struggle for freedom.”
West climbed to the podium to a rousing standing ovation from the audience. He spoke with eloquence, addressing the history of past racial and social struggles, the current issues facing the world today, the ills of indifference, the privacy of tender love, the justice of public love and the importance of love and empathy as a whole.
“The fact is that we’re vanishing creatures in time and space, we’re disappearing organisms in history,” West said to start off the night. “What does it really mean to be a featherless, two-legged, linguistically conscious creature born between urine and feces? We are not here that long, and the move between womb to tomb has to do with what kind of choices will you make, what kind of human being will you choose to be in that short flight of time. That is the question raised by the best of black history.”
West further criticized indifference, ignorance and “spiritual malnutrition” as restraints keeping society from solving its problems of poverty and racialism. He chided the government, especially President Barack Obama and our current legislators, for showing too little sympathy for the working people who are still suffering. He advocated students acquiring critical and Socratic thinking skills and empathy in education. He urged them to educate themselves and to go out and help the world rather than attend college merely for the sake of finding a good job in pursuit of status, wealth and comfort.
“You have to learn how to die in order to learn how to live,” West said later. “Because anytime you give up certain assumptions that you hold dear, when you find out they are no longer true, that they are false or even lies, you got to give them up. And anytime you give up an assumption or presupposition, that is a form of death. And the only way you mature in life, the only way you grow, the only way you develop, is by critically examining certain assumptions and giving them up. That is education.”
West captivated the crowd all night with his wisdom.
“Don’t tell me about how well you’re doing on the job, I want to know what is the quality of your service to others,” West said. “Don’t tell me how well-adapted you are to indifference as it relates to poor, working people, I want to know what is the quality of your compassion for those catching hell. That’s the best of black history. That’s why it cuts against the grain!”
Many students who attended the event were undoubtedly touched by West’s words.
Dawit Haile, a third-year English major, attended the event and believed that Cornel West’s discourse changed his perspective on the world.
“All my life, I’ve been thinking that it’s survival of the fittest, that it’s about eliminating the competition. But it’s not really about that,” Haile said. “It’s about individuality. We’re all in the same boat, trying to be successful. But we all can have some kind of concern for humanity. I think that’s important.”
West’s powerful words echoed in attendees’ minds as the talk ended.
“He really spoke to me and I really respect UC Irvine for having him here,” Haile said. “He kindled the fire in my heart to go out and help out the community.”