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Cornel West celebrates MLK Jr. at Union

Paul Woo / Lantern photographer

Cornel West drew more than 1,000 Ohio State students, faculty and visitors to the Ohio Union on Monday night.

West was part of the 39th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, held in the Archie Griffin East Ballroom. The sizeable audience caused the union staff to open the partition halfway through the program.

West said students are faced with the important question of what it is to be human and “what kind of human are you going to choose to be in the short time that you are here?”

He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in just three years before earning a doctorate from Princeton. He has written 19 books, most notably “Race Matters,” a look into racism in American democracy, and has edited 13 other books.

West, a champion for racial justice and accomplished writer, speaker and professor, spoke to the crowd for more than 30 minutes about King’s legacy.

“It was extremely truthful,” said Philippe Laroque, a first-year in psychology. “Dr. West didn’t sugarcoat or censor anything that he said.”

West said that King was not obsessed or addicted with success.

“He wanted to be great in the Biblical sense,” West said. “He wanted to serve others, he wanted to love others and he was committed to the well being of others.”

West has a strong connection to music and said that without music he would not be the man he is today.

“Music constitutes who I am, and is integral to who I am,” he said. “I wouldn’t be a free black man if it wasn’t for Luther Vandross, John Coltrane … and Lil’ Wayne on a good day.”

Besides West’s keynote address, six OSU students were acknowledged as winners of the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Awards.

“I want to acknowledge not only the achievements themselves, but also the spirit with which you receive the award,” West said.

He encouraged the world to celebrate King and his work, not just the African-American community.

“We have to be true to the afterlife of Martin,” West said. “He wanted us to be love-struck, not colorblind.”

“I believe Dr. West is an incomparable embodiment,” said Courtney Hunt, a first-year in business. “He reaches out to race and nationality. It may take many years for people to hear his voice.” 

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