Cornel West speaks to rapt audience at CSUEB

Photo by Nelson Estrada

Dr. Cornel West speaks in front of the attending protesters at Cal State East Bay the afternoon of Nov. 17, 2011. Later that night, he spoke to an audience in the University Theatre where he talked about how greed has taken over people's lives. Photo by Nelson Estrada.

Wide-eyed spectators stared intently toward the stage at the man wearing a black three-piece suit, thick black glasses with hair as loud as Don King.

On a wet and cold Thursday night hundreds of students, faculty members and fans crowded into the University theatre of Cal State East Bay to listen to special guest lecturer Dr. Cornel West. The event was put together by Associated Students Inc. for their Between the Lines Speaker series.

West was introduced to a standing ovation as he ran on stage towards the podium giving high fives and huge embraces to anyone in his path.

Before he began his lecture he asked the crowd to salute the people who stayed overnight between Wednesday and Thursday, on campus for the California Faculty Association strike.

“These people were willing to take a stand,” West said, “And when there are people who are willing to sacrifice it says something about the world.”

In a lecture that touched upon various topics ranging from the occupy movement, LGBT struggles, social media to the civil rights movement, he referenced everything from musical icons, historical leaders and his mothers’ womb, one thing was clear by the end of the night: the world suffers from a lack of love.

West said human beings have lost track of what it is to be human. They have turned into a “look at me” society obsessing over material things, money and social position.

“There is too much greed, envy and profound culture decay,” West said. “We have put too much value in the market. Things such as love and fidelity have been pushed aside and has resulted in the commercialization of everything. Everything is now up for sale.”

The theatre constantly echoed with applause as the crowd cheered on every point West made. SF State graduate La’Shay Morris attended the event and was the first person to step to the mic during the Q&A session.

“He understands the curse of humanity,” Morris said. “He gets into it about politics, economics and education, but he also brings the love that other leaders don’t.”

Across the plaza from the theatre were the overflow rooms streaming the event on classroom projectors. Although the rooms were about 20 yards away Mills College student Amy Alaman, 27, was still able to connect with the words of West.

“Although I wasn’t in attendance his energy was still able to reach out to us,” Alaman said. “I liked his examples of solidarity and I felt like it really connected with me.”

CSUEB ASI members Tess Olmeby and Riddhi Sood were lucky enough to sit down and meet with West before the event.

“One thing that stood out clear to me was that he was so down to earth,” Olmeby said. “When he first met all of us he didn’t shake our hands he gave us a hug.”

Sood said West is so full of energy that anyone feels comfortable around him.

“He’s not here to influence you,” Sood said. “He tells you his views and what he believes in. I like the fact that he said he doesn’t associate himself with race. He associates himself with ‘right people’.”

West is well known for his activist work, appearing at occupy camps around the country and most recently standing with strikers at the CSUEB campus. He recently made national news, announcing he will be leaving Princeton in order to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York, where he began as an assistant professor in 1977.

West ended the night leaving no important subject untouched, which left CSU East Bay graduate Chris Posatas stumped when it came time to ask a question.

“He spoke about a plethora of subjects so it was hard to come up with a question that he didn’t answer for me already,” Posatas said. “So it was nice to be taught without having to go to class.”

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