Cornel West at A&M-Commerce: Transcript
Cornel West spoke to a packed house at Ferguson Auditorium on the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce on Sept. 28.
A transcription of his speech follows:
What a blessing to be here at Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas. How blessed I am. How privileged I am, how honored I am. Thank you so very much. Indeed, I want to acknowledge by dear brother, Caleb Ferris, though he's on his way to law school to be a force for good. That brings joy to my heart to see any young person, no matter what color, gender, sexual orientation, or national identity, who is making a choice to make the world a better place. Give it up for brother Caleb, one more time, one more time.
My dear brother Noah Nelson. You all are so blessed. He is such a high-quality human being -- is that right? Am I telling the truth? Been here four years; distinguished career and calling, and media all around the world; grew up down the road in Dallas, and ends up here in Commerce to make such a wonderful difference. Give it up for my dear brother, your brother, brother Noah Nelson. I was blessed to meet the captain of the ship president of this grand institution. He's a fellow Princetonian. He also spent time at a place named Harvard, but his heart's in Commerce. His heart's here at Texas A&M. I'm talking about brother Ray Keck, distinguished scholar of the Spanish Golden Age. Salute to my brother, beloved wife and family, Patricia, and there she is, yes give it up for our first lady. There's so many other professors and teachers. This is a very special place.
Texas means so much to me. My mother grew up in Orange, Texas, so when I travel the world and people say, "Oh You know Texas, that's one of those strange, cursed places that generate the George Bushes of the world." But when I think of Texas, I don't think of brother George, I think of my mother. I think of Irene B. West, and in all honesty I’ve never had a higher honor than being the second son of the late Clifton and the present Irene B. West. And I say that in all honesty, because I am who I am, because somebody loved me. Somebody cared for me. Somebody tended to me, and this is especially the case for these magnificent high school students. That as you make your move into college, some of you may end even up here in Commerce, but never forget those who gave so much to make you who you are.
I come from the chocolate side of Sacramento, California, Shiloh Baptist Church. The legendary Willie P. Cooke was my pastor, and he was a pastor, not a CEO. We got a lot of CEOs running churches now, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about those who put the focus on the love and on the justice. And the great Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the towering public intellectuals of the 21st century used to say, "Any justice that's only justice soon degenerates into something less than justice. Justice must be rescued by something more than justice, namely love."
And we need more serious talk. We need more serious enactment and embodiment of love defined not as some sentimental feeling and some spurious excessive emotion, but as a steadfast commitment to other people, and especially the weak and the vulnerable. We just heard the music of Marvin Gaye. I want to thank brother Noah and the brothers in the background to have that music. Because Im from a tradition that says the spirit will not descend without song. If you listen not just to the words and the lyrics, but the very voice itself. The vulnerability, the integrity, the subtlety, the mastery of craft of technique, but also the soulfulness. And soulfulness is a sharing of a soothing sweetness against the darkness of catastrophic circumstances. That's what soul is all about. David Porter and Issac Hayes said, "I'm a soul man. I come from a dusty road. Good lovin’ I got tons of it." That's not just namby-pamby adolescent talk about bodies bumping up against one another and asking what the performance level is after. No, no, this is soul from the gut. This is soul from what it means to be a human being and a willingness to connect to the humanity of other people. Because I come from a people, from a black people in the United States that for 400 years have known so many forms of being terrorized and traumatized and stigmatized. But the best of my tradition of a people who have been so hated, is to teach the world so much about love.
John Coltrane's "Love Supreme." James Baldwin's love-soaked essays. Every paragraph, every comma, every semicolon, shot through with the yearning for connection with the humanity of others given his deep love. Is there any character on the American stage that we have witnessed in the last 75 years who has more move than Lorraine Hansberry's mama in the "A Raisin in the Sun?" Nina Simone, "Mississippi Goddamn." Don't miss the love in it. Later Malcolm X -- we understand the early Malcolm X had some challenges when it came to the humanity of our precious white brothers and sisters, but the later Malcolm X deeply shot through, it was a profound love. We can go on and on and on.
Now I'm not saying black people have any monopoly on teaching the world so much about love, but there is something about being so systematically and chronically hated for so many years and still producing in the face of terror. Not black versions of Isis or Al-Qaeda, but Fredrick Douglas: "You enslave me, I'm not going to enslave you. I want liberty for everybody." Ida B. Wells Barnett: "You terrorize me with Jim Crow, you lynch my best friends. I don't want lynch you back, I want freedom for everybody." Martin Luther King Jr.: "Is there a higher example of a love warrior, not because he's a god or a deity but because he decided to be a certain kind of human being?" So when it comes to talking about justice, this is not primarily a matter of what your politics are. What label I can put you under. No, it's about being true to the best of a tradition that says echoes of line 38 of Plato's "Apology": "The unexamined life is not worth living."
The unexamined life is not a life of the human. We know our English word human derives from the Latin humando. Humando means what in Latin -- burial. That we are the kinds of creatures who are on our way to burial, and conscious of it. Cognizant of it. The crucial question will be, what kind of human beings will we choose to be in the short move from our mama's womb to the tomb?
That's one reason why I spend so much time with funk masters like Bootsy Collins and George Clinton -- because they remind us what color we are as human beings. We emerge in the funk of our mama's womb. There's a lot of blood down there. Got a little stank too, but I won't get too funky on a Wednesday morning in Texas like this. We are reminded of humanity and equality and one day our bodies will be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms. That's kind of funky too. So at this deep level before you talk about justice in a political sense. Before we even begin to talk about 2016 and the presidential campaign and feeling despairing and disappointing and so forth and so on. No, this is an educational institution of the highest level that is concerned about how does "Justice Matters" connect to wrestling with that fundamental philosophical question of what it means to be human.
So I begin with Paideia, P-A-I-D-E-I-A. What the Greeks call deep education, to be distinguished from cheap schooling. What I love about Texas A&M University in Commerce, especially with a visionary president and other faculty, other faculty and others, is that you all do have to provide skills for your students. You want to make sure that when your students do graduate, that they are ready to deal with the highly competitive labor market. No doubt. But when they graduate they also want to have wrestled with what it means to be human and what it means to be a citizen who has some focus on something called public interest and common good, and not just their own individual pecuniary gain. Not just their own narcissistic orientations. Not just your own individualistic dispositions towards the world. The question becomes, how do you bring together the providing of those sophisticated skills on the one hand, but also thoroughly unsettle, unnerve and un-house our precious students as they move through this precious place in such a way that they have wrestled with what it means to be human and try to become better citizens in a fragile democracy?
Given the present circumstance, I go back and replay Plato’s Republic over and over again. Not only because of the philosophical profundity of Plato, but Plato's critique of democracy. He says, "Show me a democracy and I will show you a society that is run by unruly passion and pervasive ignorance and will generate tyranny." The founding father of the Western philosophical tradition provides one of the most powerful critiques of democracy, not because he's a democrat but because a democracy put to death his mentor, Socrates. Any of us who are committed to our fragile democracy, small D, not which political party you are a part of. Not talking about your ideologies and so forth initially. But if you are committed you have to come to terms with Plato's critique. Unruly passion, pervasive ignorance and escalating complacency, apathy, refusal to participate, refusal to engage in trying to make yourself, your school, your community, your nation and world, a better place.
Let's take a look at this notion of Paideia as it relates to justice, as it relates to love, love of truth, love of beauty, love of goodness. I speak as a Christian. Love of the holy. I just say I speak as a Christian just to be honest and candid, not to proselytize. A lot of non-Christian folk who are magnificent human beings. We were talking earlier about Carl Hempel at Princeton. When brother Keck showed up in class and told him, "Of course there's no god, everybody know there's no god," Brother Keck seemed to think, “Dang, I didn't get the memo yet.” You learn from Carl Hempel coming out of Vienna Circle. You learn of Carl Hempel being the secular figure that he is. You learn from Carl Hempel being the atheist that he is and still radically disagree, but you are honest and you engage in Paideia.
Now I tell my students, I've told my students now for 41 years, not just in Harvard, Yale, Princeton, University of Paris, but I've taught in prison for 37 years. It's a privileged to teach in prisons. At the end of my class I tell them, “You are here to learn how to die.” And they say, “Brother West, I just thought I was taking your philosophy class to get a grade in order to fulfill my humanities requirement. What you doing brother West?” No, no you here to learn how to die because Plato says what: "Philosophy, love of wisdom, philosophia, love of wisdom, is a meditation on the preparation for death. Montaigne says “To philosophize is to learn how to die.” Silica says, “He or she who learns how to die unlearns slavery.” Dorothy Day, one of the greatest freedom fighters of the 20th century, wrote one of the most profound eulogies for Martin Luther King Jr. April 5, 1968, she said, "What was distinctive about Martin Luther King Jr. was he learned how to die daily," and he read that in Ebenezer Baptist Church in the chocolate side of Atlanta, Georgia, in that Greek New Testament where Paul says, "Christians must learn how to die daily." So what is it to learn how to die in connection with love and justice.
Well anytime you examine assumptions and presumptions, certain prejudices you have, certain prejudgments you have and you decide to let some of them go, that's a form of death. So courageous critical examination. Courageous self-interrogation generates a discarding of certain assumptions and prejudices that allow you to become what: learn how to die in order to learn how to live well. There is no education with maturity, growth and development without learning how to die. Of course the Christian language is what: there is no rebirth without death.
Paideia, education, taking place at its best here at Commerce, is about trying to get each of us to undergo this process of critical self-examination. Certain assumptions, presuppositions, certain dogma and doctrine, certain narrow perspectives, parochial orientations, to broaden them out. Get a sense of what the world is like. Get a sense of something outside of the bubble where you may have grown up in, wherever part of Texas, the nation, the world, all of us are in need of it.
It is a human process and it is endless and it is incessant, it never stops. So it's not going to be a question. Name calling and finger pointing. I got a lot of white brothers and sisters walk up to me all the time, “Brother West, Brother West, I'm not a racist like my grandmama was. I voted for Obama.” I say, “Well I appreciate you expressing yourself and I appreciate even your conclusion, but let me tell you something, that I have been part of the black freedom movement for over 50 years beginning when I was 13 when we shut down the high schools when Martin was killed. When I look deep into the dark corners of my own soul I see white supremacy there. I see male supremacy there. I see homophobia there. I see a refusal to take seriously the humanity of my brothers and sisters in Guatemala or Ethiopia or Yemen or Pakistan the same way I do with Americans.”
Now if I see white supremacy inside of me, my hunch is, Brother John McGillicuddy, you still got work to do, because no one of us pure pristine, not free of being painted by all of these various prejudices, and it's going to be the quality of our effort together. The quality of our courage to examine ourselves to engage in this Paideia so that when the precious students graduate here, at Texas A&M University here as seniors, they can say, yes, I've been through deep Paideia. I've been transformed. I'm more sensitive. I have more empathy. I have access to skills. I have a critical orientation. I have a broader understanding of history. I have engaged in a critical self-inventory so I myself can take responsibility for some of the things that have been deposited inside of me, even by my priceless loved ones.
Some of the white brothers and sisters may go back home for Thanksgiving. How you doing? Well I've been working with Black Lives Matter. What you doing, John? We didn't send you to Texas A&M University to become involved in Black Lives Matter. “Yeah, mom, I've been reading W.E.B. Dubois and listening to Marvin Gaye and Donnie Hathaway and I've been reading about Miles Horton.” Who's Miles Horton? Oh, he was a vanilla brother that founded Highlander Center in Tennessee. That's where Rosa Parks was three months before she decided to sit down on a bus and order to stand-up for justice. He was a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr. The great rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel used to spend time with him. Miles Horton? That's right, his book is in the library, 'The Long Haul: The Autobiography.' He went to Union Seminary. He studied with Niebuhr. I have been undergoing Paideia mama. She will say, “Okay, eat your biscuits and I'm going to pass some gravy for you.”
Courage, critical consciousness, and it's at the spiritual and the existential level. It's probably best exemplified in a love letter the great W.E.B Dubois wrote when he was 89 years old. You all know the great W.E.B Dubois, one of the towering public intellectuals of the 20th century, alongside the John Deweys and the Susan Sontags and the Lionel Trillings and the others, stands Dubois. I want to write a love letter to the younger generation. Maybe in the 21st century they will need some insight; they will need access to an example of Paideia at its highest level in relation to justice matters, love matters. The four questions Dubois laid out in that novel of his 'The Ordeal of Mansart,' on page 275 he says, "How shall integrity face oppression?" Second question: "What does honesty do in the face of deception?" Third query: "What does decency do in the face of insult?" Last query: "How shall virtue meet brute force?" The virtue that he's talking about is the enabling virtue, courage, because all the other virtues are empty, shallow, hollow, without courage. Aristotle taught us that courage is not just fearlessness. I grew up with a lot of gangsters who were fearless, but they didn't have a moral dimension or a spiritual aspect to their fearlessness. Of course I always viewed myself on a continuum with gangsters, that's why I don't believe a thing is completely separating our self from the worst of humanity. On a very personal note I was a gangster before I met Jesus, now I'm just a redeemed sinner with gangster proclivities, that's all I am. When I talk about war criminals I'm not talking pointing the finger, that somehow I'm so better than them. They just did some things that's wrong and I have the capacity to do it and I just decided not to do it, so far.
You will all read about me a year from later. Yes, Brother West said he was a gangster. He couldn't hold it in. I told you. Nothing but the training, the shaping, the nurturing the soul craft that goes into each and every one of us to try to somehow try to get some control and mastery over the worst of who we are. The civil war that goes on inside of our souls every day and it can be any form of evil. It can be the vicious legacy of white supremacy that we still have yet to fully come to terms with, even given the great breakthrough of having a black president. Yes, there's been wonderful progress in this nation when it comes to dealing with the vicious legacy of white supremacy, of 244 years of barbaric slavery. And 90 years, and I want to say this especially for the students, it wasn't just 90 years of segregation. It was Jim Crow, which is a species of American terrorism. Every two and a half days for 51 years some black man or woman or child was hanging from some tree. Strange fruit the southern trees bear, that the great Billie Holiday sang about with such power. You all know that song.
Brother Abel Meeropol, Jewish brother writing the lyrics. Old Brother Artie Shaw, another Jewish brother, the first to have Billie sing in his band in the south, in the Jim Crow south, which meant they put their lives on the line, that's courage. That's not just talk. That's not abstract discourse. That's not chitchat. That's Paideia enacted outside of the university, because Paideia comes in a lot of different forms. James Baldwin never went to college, but a college went through him -- Paideia. One of the greatest of all artistic freedom fighters, Curtis Mayfield, the west side of Chicago, dropped out of school at 8th grade, but could write Gypsy Woman and I'm so proud when he's 14. It's called genius. But it's concerned with same process, what it means to be human, committed to justice with love as the wind at one’s back. The fundamental questions that Dubois raised are the questions that the young people must raise these days.
First, will you opt for integrity. He didn't say cupidity love of money. He didn't say venality, sell your soul for a mess of pottage. Why, because we live in a society run by big money as a dominant default which means everything is for sale, everybody is for sale? That's what is so disappointing to me about the presidential campaign. It's not just one versus the other, even though I have some sense of who's better, but both tend both to be symbols of what it is for a society to render smartness rather than wisdom and money rather than compassion as the dominant idols around which the culture evolves.
Dubois talks about what will happen to America when America opts for the dusty desert of smartness and dollars. He says that in 1903, Souls of Black Folk. All you have to do is listen to any of the pundits on television. Keep in mind how many times they use the word “obviously.” Obviously this is, obviously, obviously, obviously. You say, no, it's not obvious to me. I want to hear an argument. Where is the evidence? It's a signifier of being part of the in crowd in the culture of smartness. I do not come from a tradition that elevates smartness, why, because there are a whole lot of smart vicious white supremacists. Some of them were Supreme Court, some of them were presidents, some of them went to Princeton, some of them went to Harvard, some of them sure went to East Texas Normal College and then Texas A&M.
Now I thank God for Brother Sam Rayburn. He didn't sign that southern manifesto in 1956 did he? All that pressure on him, responding to Brown vs. Board of Education. He refused to do it. So did his mentoree refuse to do it, Lyndon Baines Johnson. There is no Lyndon Baines Johnson without Rayburn. There's no Rayburn without this institution making a difference at the highest level, of course you all know Ray. Sam Rayburn, oh my god, 20 years, head speaker of the House. He begins his Congregational career in the beginning of Woodrow Wilson's presidency and he ends at the beginning of JFK's presidency. That's what you call living a long time, and serving a long time –1913 to 1961. All of the changes and transformations and metamorphosis that American society underwent. He played a fundamental role. He wasn't perfect. No one of us are perfect. T.S. Eliot reminds us, "Ours is in the trying, the rest is none of our business." It's the efforts that you make, the risks that you take, the burdens you willing to bear, that's what Paideia in relation to Justice Matters is all about.
Dubois says integrity -- where do we find integrity these days? Young folk, you'll recognize Paideia takes place in the conversation between yourselves, not just with professors and administrators. Wrestle with that question. Keep me accountable. Do you see in what I'm doing intellectual integrity, spiritual integrity, moral integrity, or am I falling prey to cupidity of love of money and status and power. My obsessed with the idols of our day. The high visibility.
I tell my young folk all the time in black context. I say I salute Beyoncé; she is one of the great entertainers of our day. Give Beyoncé a hand, give a sister a hand, give the sister a hand. Got her money, got control over her body, keeping Jay-Z straight. But Beyoncé is not Aretha. “What do you mean, Brother West? How come you puttin’ a sister down?” No, no, I'm just trying to tell the truth. What is it about Aretha? Aretha needs no spectacle. What is Beyoncé without her spectacle? She still sounds goods, but her spectacle is part and parcel of who she is. She's a beautiful sister and she shakes her thing. I'm a Christian, not a Puritan so I take a look, you know.
All Aretha needs is a microphone and a piano and she steps up to that microphone and within three minutes she has touched the depth of your soul because she is soulful at the most profound level and she concerned not with just what you are seeing, she is concerned with not just what you are feeling, but whether your soul is stirred. She comes out of soul stirrers like Sam Cooke and Jonny Taylor and Lou Rawls and Luther Vandross and Gladys Knight and the Hutchinson Sisters of the Emotions and James Cleveland and Mahalia Jackson and Donnie Hathaway and the Scott Brothers of the Whispers and Ted Mills of Blue Magic and I might as well include Texas. Yes, Archie Bell and the Drells too. Soulful at that deep level.
So much of Sister Beyoncé’s music is computer music. Get the drummer’s song, push the button. No, I don't want no push-button drummer song. I want a soulful drummer song. She was partying to Kanye and Andre 3000, she sounds good, Halo sounds good, I'm not just putting her down across the board now. And she is a great entertainer. There is a shift that has taken place in terms of Paideia in the musical context you see. A lot of it has to do with the rule of big money. One of the saddest things for me, when it comes to artistic integrity these days. I tell young folk all the time, "What happened to your singing groups? I grew up with The Dramatics and the Delfonics and the Marvelettes and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. We had bands like the Ohio Players and Charles Wright 103rd Street Rhythm Band and James Brown.
Then on the vanilla side, you had Chicago, the Rolling Stones, of course the Beatles, beyond description, but we won't bring in Britain yet. But these days it's hard to find bands, especially black bands. It's all individualistic. Isolated. Money making. Stimulating. Not necessarily caring and nurturing of the soul. Meaning what? Integrity makes you countercultural. Intellectual integrity, spiritual integrity, on the job, and I get this all time. "Oh, brother West, you so old school. You still into that old stuff talking about integrity, you better understand what the world is about It's about the 11th commandment, though shalt not get caught, get over by any means.”
I said, “I missed out on that one. I went to vacation bible school and I believed it. Said love your neighbor. When it said spread chesed loving kindness in Hebrew scripture, to the orphan and the widow and the fatherless and the motherless, no matter how demonized you are, no matter how unpopular it is.” That’s line 24 in Plato ‘Apology’: "The cause of my unpopularity was my plain speech." That's what Socrates says in the trial. Parrhesia, my frank speech. Nothing wrong with a frank speech when you are trying to engage in a quest for integrity in a culture that's so obsessed with spectacle and money and power and status.
We all need money, we all may want a little status, there's no doubt about that, but when that becomes the fundamental in the name of your life you are on the road to undermining the possibility of democracies, because there is no democracy without a significant slice of citizens who were concerned about integrity, honesty, decency and courage? That's the fundamental aim. That's something that cuts across both parties, all parties, Green party, Libertarian party, Republican party, Democratic party, and I know that there's a whole host of other parties, not the parties on the weekends, but the political parties going on. That's when you talk about Justice Matters rooted in a tradition of paideia that affects each and every one of us. It has to do with the question that you can only answer in the precincts of your own mind, heart and soul and body. What kind of human being will you choose to be? Will it be an attempt to tell the truth and always remember when it comes to human affairs, the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak? The suffering of the least of these. Of the disabled, physically challenged, of poor people, no matter what color or what nation.
I've been criticized often times for being critical of my dear Brother Barack Obama because of the drones dropping bombs on so many people in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Yemen and Somalia. 3,000 dead, 231 children dead. They say “Brother West, why are you concerned about drones, it's not Americans?” Please, spare me. Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world, red, yellow, black or white, it doesn't make any difference, precious in his sight. That's where I come from. So a child in Yemen, or a child in El Salvador or a child in Haiti has exactly the same value as a precious child in Commerce, Texas, no matter what color. No matter what color. A precious Jewish child in Tel Aviv has exactly the same value as a child on the west bank of Palestinians. How do we learn how to love precious Jewish folk and precious Palestinian folk as human beings, and raise your voice not in a spirit of self-righteousness, but because you are trying to hold onto some sense of integrity in a moment in which integrity is so often pushed to the side because it doesn't translate into big money? It don't make profits. Trying to be a person of integrity.
That's why we love Martin King. He loved LBJ, they worked together. There would be no Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act without LBJ and the Black Freedom movement that always included some white brothers and sisters, disproportionally Jewish in the 1960s, when we talk about white brothers and sisters. When he gave his critique of Vietnam and said “Oh, those babies in Vietnam have the same values as babies in Mississippi, I've got to raise my voice,” LBJ said nah nah, this Negro preacher done gone out of his lane. What did Martin say? He said, you never knew me. My calling, my vocation was to always tell the truth about the least of these. When Martin died, 72 percent of Americans disapproved of him, 55 percent of black Americans disapproved of him. I know young people often times are told, everybody loved Martin. That's a lie. They love him now that the worms got his body, but when he was alive, the kind of paideia that he enacted resulted in him cutting against the grain in all of the various communities owing to his commitment to integrity to honesty -- not mendacity, not criminality, but decency, basic, just trying to treat people right and being concerned with the humanity of any and everybody.
No one of us -- we were talking about this in the office of Brother Keck -- is irredeemable. We all can undergo change and transformation. George Wallace was an exemplary white supremacists who should have been ashamed of himself in the early 60's, but by the 90's he changed. Malcolm Little was a gangster, until the honorable Elijah Muhammad loved him and be became Malcolm X. He changed. All of us can undergo change, transformation, metamorphosis, thought various forms of paideia. Never give up on others who you think somehow are not as advanced as you are at the moment. Because you didn't drop from the sky and heavens in an advanced political consciousness state. You had to undergo the same learning how to die as anybody else. Dolores Welter, Abisles Campbell, Caesar Chavez, Ernie Cortes, towering freedom fighters, same paideia on the Spanish speaker speaking side of town with such rich traditions committed to integrity, honesty, decency and courage.
Where does that leave us at present? Well in some way it leaves us the anthem, my own tradition. Lift every voice. There is no lifting of a voice without paideia. There's no democracy without people choosing to lift their voices, taking the form of voting yes, but there's a whole host of other ways that voice is lifted. When James Weldon Johnson as Brother Rosamand wrote that anthem, they didn't say lift every echo, they said lift every voice. Democracy erodes, fades away, when there is a massive echo, massive conformity, massive complacency, massive cowardice. Cannot be a blues woman or a jazz man without what? Finding your voice and lifting your voice.
When Thelonius Monk told Coltrane quit imitating Jonny Hodges, who plays saxophone in Duke Ellington's band: “Quit imitating him. Find your voice, Trane. Appreciate it, Monk. Here's the little giant steps. How do we muster integrity, honesty, decency, courage to lift our voices, to become parts, movements organizing and mobilizing in mosques and churches and synagogues, civic associations, trade unions, whatever context you find yourself here at this grand institution, lifting your voice but entering the public space with a respect for others undergoing their paideia so that you learn how to listen.
Because there is no lifting of the voice without sankofa, which is looking backward to the voices of the dead that help you have a stronger voice. There is no lifting of the voice without receptivity, learning how to receive. Learning and listening from each other. The great John Dewey used to say, “Show me a democracy that devalues public things, public conversation, public education, public transportation” -- It's all privatized. Financialized, militarized. And this is 1927 in his book "The Problem of the Public" -- “And I'll show you a democracy sliding down a slippery slope to chaos.”
Look at Charlotte, Ferguson, San Diego, last night, New York City. We can go on and on and on. Do we have enough fellow citizens who can enter public conversations with each other, respecting our differences in such a way that the best of paideia comes forward?
I was in dialog with the wonderful principal of the students here at the high school and he was telling me about magnificent work taking place in the high school, he had given all of the challenges. Well those are signs of hope. Those are signs of hope. People often ask me now -- I began with a Socratic note I want to end on a blue note -- People say “Brother West, how do you sustain your hope given the overwhelming evidence in which the white supremacy is still ugly, misogyny is still operating, losing sight of Jewish brothers and sisters, Palestinian brothers and sisters, the mistreatment of our precious Muslim brothers and sisters, working class people of all colors still a second thought often times when it comes to the economy, a nation in which 22 percent of its children live in poverty in the richest nation of the history of the world?” That's a moral disgrace. 44 percent of black children under 6 years old live in poverty in the richest nation in the history of the world. I find that to be spiritually profane. Where is the voices? Where is the concerns about their conditions, not just as a political act, but as something moral and spiritual that focuses on their plight.
How do you sustain your hope? See I'm a blues man, and the blues is always about lyrically expressing catastrophic circumstances with a sense of hope. BB King was the king of the blues wasn't he? He wrote that song, “Nobody loves me like my mama and she might be jivin’ too.” And that's the B side of “The thrill is gone.” That's BB. But when you see how he sings the song, smile on his face, unbelievable style with a little help from Lucille. Echoes of Robert Johnson and Bessie Smith, you see the tradition of struggle for justice telling the truth motivated by love and compassion that's unstoppable, can never be shut down even when it's dispersed and scattered and pushed to the margins. It just keeps coming anyway. Why? Because choices are being made by human beings undergoing democratic forms of paideia. That's what hope is all about. Never confuse with optimism. There's never enough evidence in the history of our species to allow us to conclude that things are going to get better, it depends on what each generation does. What each generation is willing to sacrifice.
Brother Barack Obama says all the time America is a magical place. I say, no my brother, nothing magical about America. America is free and democratic to the degree that which every generation is willing through blood, sweat and tears to keep in some sense free and democratic and it will become fascist, and more racist, and more sexist, and more xenophobic if you get cowardly, conformist, complacent, apathetic persons who don't fight for it. Every generation has to make that struggle, that fight, that sacrifice. That's what it's all about. Thank you all so very much. We are going to have good time for questions. Good time for queries, but let us recognize the ways in which this Justice Matters based on this love and the ways in which Commerce is practicing and A&M University has made its contribution.