For years he’s been known as the brilliant, quintessential professor and best-selling author, yet he has dared to become a revolutionary social activist. He’s the author of 19 bestselling books and the editor of 13 others.
For 10 years, he’s been a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual professor at Princeton University’s Center for African-American Studies. He is Dr. Cornel West, and many of his friends at Princeton University, headed by Dr. Eddie Glaude, recently organized a magnificent, funky retirement party for the beloved professor. And what a funky, dynamic party it was!
With an opening of great harmonic singing voices by the Princeton University Gospel Ensemble, West and those fortunate to witness this special retirement program experienced an extraordinary two-hour event consisting of performances by jazz trumpeter Terrence Blanchard, revolutionary spoken word entertainment by the Cornel West Theory Group of Washington, D.C.; hip-hop sensation Lupe Fiasco thrilled the audience singing “Superstar” and Bootsy Collins surprised West with an award and a funky pair of eyeglasses.
However, the biggest surprise came when George Clinton and his 14-member P-Funk band walked onstage to perform their hits and West went onstage and joined Clinton, singing and dancing to the funk. Everybody in the McCarter Theater was out of their seats dancing and grooving. It was an electrifying experience.
Prior to P-Funk, writer Farah Jasmine Griffin, in author Toni Morrison’s absence, recited a beautiful poem dedicated to West, Morrison’s long-time friend and colleague. In absentia, Morrison described their relationship as “a gift and a blessing.”
Subsequently, the legendary singer, movie star and activist Harry Belafonte walked onstage with the aid of a cane and said, “In my life, I’ve had the great privilege and the great blessings to walk with some of the greatest forces on earth, to be able to serve some of the greatest citizens of our humanity in efforts to make this world a better place. And just as I thought that I had seen the last of the flock, just when I thought the endangered species of renowned figures putting themselves in the service of human needs and struggle, that endangered species called the celebrity core…to be in the service of those who needed our presence in the struggle; to know Paul Robeson, to know Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, to have had a chance to dine with and hug Eleanor Roosevelt and then to become a contemporary and to wine, dine and to discuss so many things with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.–just when I thought my term had run its course, in steps Cornel West!
“And he has changed my life in so many ways! Cornel, you have meant so much to so many of us. You have stood strong. You have looked in the ruler’s face and did not flinch. You have spoken truth to power!”
During his retirement party, video clips of West’s friends, such as Bill Maher of “Real Time With Bill Maher,” were shown to the audience as they expressed their genuine respect and love of West. There were also very moving comments from some of West’s students at Princeton University, such as Danielle Pingue, class of 2013, who said, “West is not just a teacher in academics, but he’s also a kind of revolutionary. He’s someone who, beyond the class, is a social activist, and he brings that to every lecture and every class.”
West has become very involved in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. In October of 2011, he was arrested twice in one week.
West is retiring from Princeton University and will relocate to Harlem in the fall, where he will be employed at the Union Theological Seminary. Explaining his retirement from Princeton University to accept a seminary position in Harlem, West said, “It’s a question of spiritual vocation as opposed to one’s professional career. At this point in my life, it is what I have been called to do in the service of humanity.”