Rhode Island School of Design

Exemplify the Love : A Lecture With Dr. Cornel West by Jack Wulf

Dr. Cornel West, a philosopher, author, professor, and activist, believes that we as people need to preserve the love of truth and beauty.  On January 23, 2019, Dr. Cornel West shared his wisdom with the public in Providence Rhode Island at the RISD MLK series keynote event.

The overarching message of Dr. Cornel West’s lecture was for everyone to “exemplify the love”.  He believes that one should “show people they are a healer and not a hurter”. I believe this quote greatly describes how Martin Luther King Jr. lived his life.  He and other black people in America faced ,and continue to face, years of oppression and violence, yet he fought back with love. He showed the world that he could be a healer, and that the community could be healed instead of hurt.  Dr. Cornel West then goes on to give example of other historical heroes during the civil rights. He speaks of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas, and how they could have simply formed a “negro version of the Ku Klux Klan”.  However, what is important is that they did not do that. They decided to fight hate with love. Dr. Cornel West believes that we should always be the stronger person and to not treat others with hatred.

Dr. Cornel West also spoke about the importance of diversity.  He believes that there is “no such thing as a homogeneous community, and that there is diversity sprinkled in everything”.  I believe this to be true. Diversity is everywhere, and it is important for people to embrace the differences in others. Each and every person has something unique to them that they can teach the world.  

Dr. Cornel West put out a call to action to the students at the lecture.  He stated that, If the students “want that deep education…[they need to] attend to the things that matter… engage in dialogue even with others we have deep disagreements with because we can learn from everyone.”  He calls for the students to go beyond just their art practice, and I believe that is very important. He speaks about how someone can be the very best painter or woodworker in the world, however if they isolate themselves to their practice, they are not using their talents to their full potential.  It is important to have knowledge of the world around, and to then place those experiences within the art. Dr. Cornel West stated shortly before Martin Luther King’s Death, he stated that he “wasn’t here to be recognized, didn’t want to be the darling on an establishment… people have never really known me.  They thought I was a civil rights activist soley… human rights activist… no… great american… no. I was an artist”. I believe that being an artist is not necessarily about the physical work one creates, rather it is about how they view the world and how they process emotions and information.

Another point that I found interesting is that Cornel West believes that discrimination against minorities is “not a problem.. It’s a catastrophe”.  He then goes on to state that a “problem is a technical concern or managerial concern”. He believes that using the word “problem” makes the issue seem much less important that it actually is.  Where as the word “catastrophe” calls much needed urgency to the issues at stake. He talked about how the Holocaust was not a problem at all, it was a catastrophe. He also speaks of the discrimination towards LGBT+ people and how that is a catastrophe.  I found this to be very interesting because obviously discrimination is a problem, but it is really much more than that. With problems, one can simply “fix” them, or address the problem at a different time. Whereas catastrophes are dire, and cannot be ignored or they will simply become overwhelming, which is exactly how these forms of discrimination and issues should be treated.  Social issues are extremely important, and should not be treated as small issues.

Lastly, Cornel West left the auditorium with a quote, “Find out who you are, step out on nothing and land on something”.  One does not always have to be sure of the next step in the path of their lives. Sometimes it is important to simply take a blind risk, and see what one really stands for.  “Stepping out on nothing” as Dr. Cornel West says, means trusting oneself. In a pinch, one will find out what really matters. Hopefully, one steps out of nothing and lands on love, truth, and beauty.  These are the key principles that Dr. Cornel West taught in his lecture. After all, what does one have if they do not have love, truth, and beauty? Martin Luther King Jr. lived his life through love, truth, and beauty, and I believe the world would be a much better place if everyone strived to live their lives according to these principles.

Photo source : https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/oct/25/democracy-truth-seeking-and-freedom-of-thought-an-/

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