Dr. Cornell West Brings It! An Inspiring and Informative Lecture at the University of Houston—Downtown
Dr. Cornell West
Friday, November 6, 2015 was a really frustrating day for drivers in Houston. It seemed like every major artery in the city was clogged with insufferable traffic. Of course, I was in a blinding rush to arrive at the lecture given by the honorable Dr. Cornell West at my Alma mater, University of Houston—Downtown (UHD). Dr. West was to give a lecture concerning the current Civil Rights movement, Black Lives Matter (BLM). I didn’t think I would even make it and if so, get a seat. When I got there, they were running a little late and hadn’t even started yet. I even got a good seat. I was right on time.
The lecture was typical Dr. West at his very best. He was witty, charming and animated…the consummate intellectual “cool breeze” in academia…and in the room. His light, but engaging touch was the perfect remedy to tackle a very delicate subject here in Houston, Texas. A barbaric incident sparked the heated debate over the deaths of officers in the line of duty in relation to the BLM movement. On August 30, 2015, Sheriff’s Deputy, Darren Goforth was murdered in cold-blood by an African-American assailant, 30-year-old, Shannon Miles, while filling up his cruiser at a gas station in Cypress, TX…just 25 miles north of Houston. This happened at the height of the BLM movement. As a result, many Texans, as well as many people across the country began to openly criticize BLM in its approach to the issue of police brutality, as well as what the movement initially stands for. UHD’s student-run publication, Dateline Downtown, ran an editorial covering the murder of officer Goforth and addressed the controversy surrounding the event (Vol. 55, Issue 2). Needless to say, Dr. West was the perfect individual to come to Houston and address this highly-sensitive issue.
University of Houston--Downtown
To Progress Means to "Die"
Honestly, I was prepared to hear a detailed analysis and break down of all the intricacies of the Movement…a dry lecture, basically. But, instead, I and the many others present were regaled with stories of the old times and Civil Rights struggles of years long past. Perhaps, the most defining moments of the lecture, for me, were the instances that Dr. West referred to philosophical teachings and their relation to the Civil Rights struggles, both past and present. He took a hodge-podge of African-American writers, thinkers, leaders and freedom fighters…even his own beloved parents and poetically harmonized the root of Black struggle in one sentence…’that there can be no rebirth without first learning how to die.’ This phrase sent chills up my spine at the level of depth and abject simplicity of its truest meaning in regards to Black Lives Matter.
Rebirth is about change. For African-American in the “Left Hemisphere”, the Struggle has been a journey of trial and error, adaptation and basically, making a way when there appears to be absolutely no way. Dr. West was able to bridge the gap between high philosophy and common necessity by making reference to the fact that Blacks, historically, have endured the unthinkable and yet, continue to survive and thrive with a firmly-rooted level of dignity, thus providing ‘a way.’ This takes great fortitude! Any movement, any struggle we engage in would lead to the inevitability of certain death. This Struggle is inbred and carries with it the understanding that longevity, in many cases, is an unattainable reality. Dr. West’s talk gave credence to the root of the current Civil Rights Movement when he summed up his stance in the question, ‘how does integrity face oppression?’ In other words, how does one meet the oppression of the times with dignity and grace?
Hold Fast to the Standard
Dr. West spoke of great African-American freedom fighters like Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells and James Baldwin giving meat to the bone fact that to be African in America means to come face-to-face with personal decisions that could further the cause of African liberation or hinder it. No matter what walk of life an African-American dwells in, Dr. West stated that they, like Jacob in the Old Testament, will have to “wrestle” with racism and ultimately, themselves, in order to find within a place of integrity and renewed strength. Dr. West admonished the audience to not be afraid to “get political” when necessary and to stand on one’s principles always taking into consideration how our decisions and our successes or failures impact those who struggle alongside us.
Often, many of the BLM critics and naysayers would have us believe that the movement is selfish and unwarranted…that the very act of protest and activism is dangerous and outmoded. Standing within one’s human dignity, however dangerous it may be, will never be outmoded within a system of racism and White supremacy. For many whose very lives hang in the balance, the answer is simple. Hold firm to the standard that Black lives truly matter, regardless the season, lest the world forget again. Dr. West advised us that to see one’s way clearly means to dump the hopeful deception of American optimism and have the freedom to be hopeful in more realistic terms. American racism, like American technology, changes with the times and Black Lives Matter is a new movement fit for the current racist agenda. But, in order to remain grounded in the storm, the movement must look to the past to gird itself…and help find its integrity.
Is it fair to broadly scrutinize a generally nonviolent movement by the vicious deeds of the misguided few? Share your thoughts.