ThrowBack Thursdays: My Encounter w/ Dr. Cornel West


Every week I post a miscellaneous article/review/blog that I have written in the past, or an interview of an extraordinary individual.

This week’s Throwback Thursdays: Dr. Cornel West.

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On Monday, May 9th, 2011, I had the privilege and honor to speak with the one and only Dr. Cornel West. No words could express the awesome power I felt that day, when I was in the presence of a man who changed my life forever.

It all started in fall of 2006, when I was applying for colleges as a high school senior at Coronado High School. And it was during this time of year that I began to discover my charisma. I was seventeen years old at that time, and my ambition to gain acceptance at top universities around the nation was great. But I never thought how one high school orientation would change my ambitions for the better and ultimately my personality.

A revelation came to me one day, when I attended an orientation for an upcoming speech contest. My English teacher assigned my class ‘extra credit’ for those of us who participated in that contest.

When I sat down, the recruiter who hosted the orientation, Becky Rocco, introduced herself and the contest to my fellow peers. While she was talking, I began to brainstorm ideas of a speech topic that I could use at the contest. But before I could jot anything down, she then says this:  “… fear of speaking…

All of sudden, everything around me slowed down; I soon found myself in The Matrix. And it was at that moment that I found my topic of oration: Fear.

From that day forward, I began to have fever like dreams and radical like ideas of Fear–and how it manifests in our daily lives (the fear of dying, losing, living, etc). And it was then that I began to compose my speech–and soon my letter to Dr. Cornel West.

A week has passed since I lost my speech contest; and I haven’t gotten a response from Dr. Cornel West either. As a result, I was quite depressed. But all of that changed when I received the call of the century.

After completing an intense morning game of water-polo with my team mates, I walked to my car to unload my athletic gear. When I got to the trunk of my car, I heard and felt my phone ringing–but I failed to pick it up because I just wanted to unload my gear before I did anything. And when I was done, I picked up my phone and saw that I had a missed call and voicemail from a “609” telephone number. Not knowing of who it was, my Dad then called me to say that he just talked to Dr. Cornel West and he wanted to commend me on my essay on Fear. I was completely in shock and awe. My Dad actually had a conversation with Dr. Cornel West? Before I did? And so, without a moment’s notice, I picked up my phone, called my voicemail and sure enough it was him that called me that morning.

Today, I still have his voice message saved onto my phone. But it would take me five years (from the time that I received it in 2006) to actually speak or even dialogue with Dr. Cornel West. Every time I called his office he was either teaching a class, getting himself arrested, or somewhere in another country. But when I got accepted to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation program in Washington, DC. (Spring 2011), I saw this as a great opportunity to finally meet Dr. Cornel West in person; and so I scheduled an appointment.

Five years later, I was now sitting in the waiting room of Dr. Cornel West’s office at Princeton University. When he opened the door, my heart raced–there he was right in front of me. When I shook his hand and introduced myself as Prince, he immediately bowed his head and my heart sank. When I walked inside his office, he had books and pictures all across his room—from Richard Pryor to the artist formerly known as Prince.

But before I could sit down, I asked him this question: “Do you know who you are?” 

As he was walking to his desk, he looked at me with a puzzled face and said, “Do I know who am I am?”

And I asked him again, “Do you know who you are, sir?” 

Sitting down and laying back in his chair he said, “I think I know who I am?

And then I said to him, “You are Dr. Cornel West!” He chuckled and laughed, and insisted that I have a seat. He asked me where I was from and what brought me here to Princeton University.

I replied, “I came from San Diego, Ca to Washington DC to your office to say thank you for what you have done for me five years ago. Thank you for leaving that voice mail that has helped me achieve so much.”  At first he didn’t believe what I was saying, but when I put my voicemail on speaker, (listening to his own voice in the background) he then said, with shock and awe, “Five years?!

But what really made my experience so much more memorable was when I gave my speech in front him for the very first time. The response that I got from him was: “Brotha (nodding his hand), that was deep…”

In our conversation we talked about God, Love, Black History, Public Service, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, DC, and then he asked me this question:

“What do you see yourself doing in five years?”

I said, “I want to be like you! To inspire people like you have inspired me.

He then signed my books, called up my parents to say thank you, took pictures, gave me his Bootsy Collins CDs, and he even offered me money for my ride back to DC, which I respectfully declined. But before I left, I asked him this question:

“Do you have any regrets?”

And he then said to me, “To not love more than enough.

Dr. Cornel West

Thank you Dr. Cornel West for being a great inspiration to me. And continue to inspire the young people of our generation. Thank you for validating that I am a special individual, when my peers and I believed otherwise. That one phone call gave me everything I needed to pursue my goals and aspirations. Regardless of what people say about you, I will always regard you as that one person who loved me when no one else did; you are an advocate for the people! Thank you again and it was great seeing you last year at Columbia University! 

If you wish to learn more about Dr. Cornel West go to www.cornelwest.com

You can also follow him on Twitter at @CornelWest and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/drcornelwest

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