The Daily Gamecock

Speaker highlights the impact of MLK on today's civil rights movement

The Russell House Theater was packed Tuesday evening with USC students and faculty eager to hear from esteemed professor and author Cornel West.

The event, hosted by the Association of African American Students (AAAS) and Alpha Phi Alpha, was titled “Motivation, Progression and Growth.” West generally addressed the state of race relations in the United States and how modern activists should incorporate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy into their actions.

An ongoing theme in West’s speech was the predominance of an "'I' consciousness” over a "'we' consciousness" in younger generations. In a self-deterministic society, he said, young people have forgone the unity and respect for history that made King and his predecessors successful.

West encouraged young people to think beyond the “cheap conceptions of success,” such as wealth and status, that are often promoted in society. He advocated searching deeper in education than the bare minimum of earning a degree.

“Deep education is what? Learning how to die in order to learn how to live, because you learn how to die by critically examining your assumptions and presuppositions,” he said. “You have to give them up. Not all of them but some of them. And any time you give them up, that’s a form of death.”

West concluded this point with the statement that, after questioning and releasing their assumptions, people are reborn more educated. He also emphasized that being smart is not necessarily enough when it comes to building a movement.

“Let the phones be smart,” he said. “You’ve got to be wise.”

Music was also an important point in West’s speech. He said that black artists today tend to be more focused on marketing themselves than on digging deeply into themselves or the world around them.

Above all, West focused on the empowerment of the black community, regardless of economic status, that he believes is necessary to form the foundation of a strong social movement.

“What is the anthem of black people?” he asked the audience, and then answered himself: “Lift every voice and sing. Lift up their voices.”

He touched several times on King’s teachings of justice and its relationship to love.

“Justice is what love looks like in public, just like tenderness is what love feels like in private,” he said. “You love black folk not because black people will love you back. You love black people because they’re worthy of being loved, and they can change and be changed,” he said.

West reiterated several times that he intended his advice and generalizations to be applicable to any race, and to recognize similarities is essential to King’s legacy of justice and love.

“That’s what I think needs to be said for Black Lives Matter and the awakening taking place in young people,” he said. “(It’s a) marvelous new militancy. You’ve just got to make sure to keep love and justice at the center of it.”

As president of AAAS, third-year molecular biology and biochemistry student Alkeiver Cannon was thrilled to have a figure such as West speak to students.

“I thought it was really, really empowering,” Cannon said. “In light of events that have happened with the 2020 protest and other things, it’s really beneficial for us to hear someone like Dr. Cornel West come and speak to us.”

She hopes that the event will serve to motivate students — whether they are black, white or any other race — to keep pushing with the movements that have already begun.

“Make sure that when you’re doing them, you’re staying true to yourself, you’re being honest … all these things. And just remember that the most important thing is that we love one other,” she said.

Second-year broadcast journalism student Janelys Villalta, who works as a diversity peer educator and is community service officer for the Latin American Student Organization (LASO), said she thought the event was a step toward improving diversity on campus.

“I think it was really awesome and profound to hear someone being so encouraging, to the black community especially,” she said. “It’s really cool to hear someone talk to young students about what we can do to make our Carolina community more diverse.”

Throughout his speech, West emphasized the important role that King’s companions and community played in his success. He said that students who committed to integrity, honesty, decency and virtue would be contradictions of society and the first steps toward real change.

“Be a voice and not an echo. Be an original and not a copy. Be an invention of yourself based on tradition,” West said. “Martin understood that. Not all by himself — in community, with friends, with comrades.”