Cornel West is one of the world’s leading intellectuals on history and democracy. On Friday, he shared a piece of his mind in Charlotte.
Known for his provocative rhetorical style, West spoke at the newly opened Knight Theater on topics ranging from President Obama to his latest memoir, “Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud.”
His visit was part of the “Change is Coming to Charlotte” series, sponsored by Real Eyes Bookstore to benefit the Charlotte Literary Festival.
Dressed in his signature white shirt and black suit, West’s face radiated from the sea of darkness that filled the Knight Theater stage.
“What a way to consecrate new space,” he said of the uptown venue. “What a blessing it is to be here.”
West said he wrote his latest book to “shatter all myths” about him being a self-made man.
“That’s a lie,” he said. “I am who I am because someone loved me.”
West shared how educators and his parents recognized and channeled his academic potential after he was kicked out of school as a child.
“Nobody wanted me,” he said. “Then I took an IQ test and scored around 160 and the teachers said, ‘I think this little Negro child may have some potential,’ and that’s where I began to mix the power of love with the power of education.”
West also spoke about his experiences at Yale, the shock he felt when he learned that Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed and conversations he had with Obama before he was elected president.
“I sat down with Obama and asked him what his relationship to Dr. King’s legacy was, because that is my purpose,” West told the audience.
Convinced that Obama was a candidate that he could support, West said he spoke at 67 events in support of his presidential bid.
“They were upset with me because they were giving me PowerPoints and I wouldn’t read them,” he recalled. “I told them I’m not a PowerPoint kind of guy.”
West was not hesitant, however, to be critical of Obama’s progress. He questioned the president’s ability to keep promises he made during the campaign.
“We have yet to see if it will be the empowerment of everyday people or the age of new liberalism in the age of mediocrity,” he said of the Obama presidency.
West said he wants his memoir to reach young black Americans and help close the gap between them and their older counterparts.
“This is especially for our young people,” he said. “They are full of rage, no love, and they feel all by themselves. That is the blues at the most basic level.”
He compared the plight of young black Americans to the blues, an analogy he has known to use when referring to the experience of oppressed people around the world.
“This book is one voice that is saying, ‘America, if you don’t listen, you will loose the best of your democracy,’ ” he said. “Your empire is going to trump your democracy.”
West answered questions from the audience and signed copies of his books in the lobby. All of the books shipped in for the evening were sold out, and West did not leave until every book was signed.
For more information on the “Change is Coming to Charlotte” series, visit www.RealEyesBookstore.com.