UNI spends An Evening With Cornel West

To become a leader, learn from the past, from your history and those who've gone before you. But critically examine those lessons, and yourself as well.

Cornel West, the Class of 1943 University Professor in the Center for Africa-American Studies at Princeton University and one of America's most provocative public intellectuals, has been a champion for racial justice since childhood. Speaking at the University of Northern Iowa on March 25, West rhapsodized about leadership and justice during "An Evening with Dr. Cornel West" presented by UNI's Center for Multicultural Education.

Cornel WestReflecting on Socrates' quote, "The unexamined life is not worth living," West said that every leader must wrestle with that question and the question of what it means to be human. As leaders and citizens, he told the audience they must "examine who you're going to be from womb to tomb."

But he warned that self-examination should not lead to self-absorption. In a culture of materialism and desire for external stimulation, true leaders are humble and nourished from within. An education is not a means to an end: a successful career or a financial windfall. Rather it allows the educated person to think for him or herself. It allows that person to find and live their life's calling.            

"Young people, you have to have the courage to find your voice, not just be an echo," West said. "If you come from a place of gratitude, it doesn't allow ego to take over. [The idea of leadership] didn't start with you. You're idea to be a leader came from those who came before."

And West said that some of today's leaders have forgotten where they came from and look away from the poverty their brothers and sisters are experiencing. However, he said, the repressed must choose love. Not revenge, but justice.

"It is better to be defeated and preserve your integrity," he said, "than to win and be a gangster, or be a thug."

And he said it starts at home. No matter what your color, race or creed, love at home. That love will grow and spill over to all your brothers and sisters.

"Then you know how to love your neighbors as yourself," West said. "When you love folk, you hate the fact they're being treated unfairly; you loathe the fact they're being treated unjustly."

Love, he said, is justice.