Noted crusader for racial justice inspires Everett crowd

Cornel West captivated an Everett audience with his words and stories, his unflinching look at a painful history and his inspiring call for love, service and integrity.

“It takes courage to find your voice.”

“Always allow suffering to speak.”

“Education is not just about your careers, although I hope you have marvelous careers. It’s about your calling.”

Those and other words shared by West still resonate a week after the noted author, professor and crusader for justice drew nearly 800 people to the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center at Comcast Arena.

“He touched on integrity, compassion and love. But he also kind of challenged us to examine our ideas of living, pushing us to dive deeper and see issues beyond ourselves,” said Jacquelyn Julien, an Everett Community College graduate now studying at UW Bothell.

Everett Community College sponsored West’s talk as part of its recognition of Black Legacy Month. This week, the college will keep the focus on topics raised by West, a professor, graduate of Harvard and Princeton universities, and author of “Race Matters” and many other books. A meeting to talk about West’s presentation will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Henry M. Jackson Conference Center’s Wilderness Room on the EvCC campus.

“We heard things that may trigger some emotions or thoughts. This creates a space to continue that conversation,” said Jerod Grant, director of EvCC’s Outreach, Diversity and Equity Center. “What are people thinking? Where can we go from here? Did anything Dr. West said apply in the work you do, or in your everyday life?”

Julien, 35, plans to attend Thursday’s meeting. So does Tiarra Fentress, another UW Bothell student and an EvCC employee who introduced West to his Everett audience.

Fentress, 20, of Lynnwood, said it is difficult to describe West’s talk, which was an eloquent reflection on African-American history, today’s popular culture and economics, his own literary and musical tastes, and nothing less than the meaning of life.

“He emphasized what it means to be human, to interact with one another and to have those preconceived notions and judgments,” Fentress said. “That person in front of you is filled with experience and truth.”

Fentress, whose focus at UW Bothell is American ethnic studies, hopes for a career in education. West, she said, “truly embodies what an educator stands for. It’s inclusive, not ‘I know better than you.’”

West lauded his heroes, among them Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael, the author W.E.B. Du Bois and other forces in the American civil rights movement.

He didn’t shy away from past horrors, the violence and inhumanity of slavery, or his views about struggles for black Americans today. For more than 200 years, he said, it was illegal to teach black people to read and write. He is appalled today that more than 20 percent of children in our country live in poverty. He sees no sense in the incarceration of people, largely racial minorities, on “soft drug” charges.

West challenged his audience with four questions, each acknowledging hurts while looking ahead with hope: “How does integrity face oppression?” “What does honesty do in the face of deception?” “What does decency do in the face of insult?” And “How does virtue meet brute force?”

Irvin Enriquez, 25, was among a small group of EvCC students who met with West just before his speech. “That was a great experience,” said Enriquez, who added that his own civil rights struggle is the push for immigration reform. Enriquez asked West for advice. “He said that a minority has to inspire the majority for change to be done. That opened my eyes,” Enriquez said.

In his talk at Comcast, West shared wisdom for all. “We’re not here that long,” West said. “The question is, what kind of human being are we between the womb and the tomb? What quality of love and service did you render?”

Julien has several of West’s books, including “Race Matters” and “Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom,” which the author signed for her. “He wrote my name and ‘Stay strong,’” Julien said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Talk about it

A meeting to discuss Cornel West’s talk in Everett last week is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday in the Henry M. Jackson Conference Center’s Wilderness Room, Everett Community College, 2000 Tower St., Everett. The talk is for anyone who heard West’s talk; the public is welcome.

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