Renowned scholar Cornel West visits Palmer Seminary

On Oct. 9 at 7:15 p.m., Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter addressed the overflowing crowd who had come to see Dr. Cornel West at Palmer Seminary’s Laws Chapel. The event carried much anticipation as many from the community and Eastern came to hear West speak about race, church and politics. In helping to welcome Dr. West, Mayor Nutter named him an honorary Philadelphian and presented him with a replica Liberty Bell. After Mayor Nutter spoke, President Black said a few things about Dr. West and his ties to Eastern’s mission of faith, reason and justice. Political science professor Rosemary Cowan, who did her dissertation on Dr. West and helped to bring him to Eastern, had the privilege of officially introducing him to the audience.

West currently serves as director of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University. He has authored 17 books, including the best seller Race Matters, an analysis of racism in American democracy.

Following his cordial introduction, Dr. West came on stage with his signature black suit, greeting and wishing blessings to the crowd that gave him a standing ovation. In the beginning of his speech, West challenged the audience to speak the truth about society, not to accept injustices and to find the joy of serving your neighbor in a unifying way. He spoke on the need for the church to spread the gospel to the people without the corruption of money and encouraged everyone to love each other whether you are “red, brown, yellow, black or white.”

President of Palmer Seminary Wallace Smith, the commentator for the night, asked Dr. West a series of questions including several regarding presidential candidate Barack Obama.

One of the first questions Smith asked was whether Obama could become president without being bought. Dr. West replied that by making decisions that agree with the interests of the people, Obama can create a movement that will win him a seat in the White House.

Known to be an instigator of debate, West holds a worldview that is considered quite radical. He strongly believes that white males have institutionalized oppression of minorities and women. He spoke boldly of the “white empire” as the reason African-Americans have been “casted as a permanent underdog.”

In their struggle to overcome oppression, West believes that this generation of African-Americans lacks role models of courage and morals. Their examples, West said, are largely made up of celebrities. Obama represents an alternative to those who have been presented to young people as role models. In praising Obama, West also identified him as the “head of the African-American empire.”

Brandon Robinson, 2008 graduate of Eastern said, “I thought Dr. West spoke eloquently about what is going on with African-Americans and society in general right now. I commend Eastern for putting this together, and I look forward to seeing more events like this in the future.”

Beneath the uncomfortable realizations of injustice that West spoke of so openly, he also just as openly identified love as the source of good and change in the world. Referring to Matthew 25:34-36, he challenged the church to take up the message of Christ in regard to the poor and oppressed. He repeatedly emphasized his disgust with the audacity of a church that he sees as being “controlled by ATMs and income classes.”

“I like the fact the fact that Dr. West puts an emphasis on adding love to our language and setting an example of that love for future generations,” sophomore Emily Felkamp said. “I thought it was a very moving and powerful night. He inspired me to be a positive role model in someone’s life.”

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