Activist honors Martin Luther King Jr.

Despite blizzardlike conditions, students, faculty and community members trekked through the snow to hear Dr. Cornel West honor Martin Luther King Jr. The event was rescheduled from January, when a snowstorm prevented West from coming to Burlington. West is currently a professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University. He is also known for being a civil rights activist, public intellectual and the author of the 1993 bestselling book “Race Matters,” according to the UVM press release. Professor of English Dr. Major Jackson introduced West. He said that West is blessed with both the language of the poet and the brilliance of the preacher. West was received by loud applause from the crowd at Ira Allen Chapel. One of the first things he said to the crowd was “I hope I say something that thoroughly unsettles you.” He was very animated in his speech and used a lot of hand motions. This helped to engage the audience. “I really enjoyed his speech,” first year Cecilia Kaelber said. “He’s so articulate and well-spoken. He’s really engaging and I enjoyed how passionate he is on every subject he speaks about.” He said that the question that he wanted to focus on was: What does it mean to be a human? West spoke about his admiration for Martin Luther King Jr. and described him as a wave in an ocean. He related the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to UVM. West said he wants a shift from superficial to substantial education — “the shift from the bling bling to let freedom ring.” West told the audience that we’ve come to learn how to die. This was shocking for some. “What struck me was when he said we’re here to die,” sophomore Siobhan Neela-Stock. “A physical death, a social death. I’ve never thought about it that way.” He preached to the audience to never confuse success with greatness. West said that in our present moment in society, our obsession with success has led toward spiritual malnutrition. He recognized the problems with the obsession with material fame and addictive behavior in society. West expressed his discontent with the “underemployment,” the new poor in the country and the taxes that are placed on working people. He said that those problems with society make the legacy of King more difficult to keep alive. West also spoke about what he called the deeply racist criminal justice system. “If there was equal enforcement for drug offenses, the jails would be more colorful,” he said. When West finished with his speech, he received a standing ovation and overwhelming applause from the crowd of people at the Ira Allen Chapel.