The distinguish Dr. Cornel West took the stage as the speaker for RISD’s MLK Series Keynote on January 23, 2019. Cornel West has such a rich background ranging from graduating from several elite ivy league universities to writing many books on race, politics, and democracy, as well as making appearances on tv shows, films, and documentaries. During the keynote, Cornell shared his analytical perspective on why he thought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was a heroic warrior whose legacy deserves a deeper level of understanding to truly try to understand his mission and who he was as a person.
Cornel talked about how Martin Luther King Jr led a non-violent resistance to seek justice for the catastrophe happening mainly in the black community where they faced racism against those who formed the strong pillars of white supremacy. He states that Martin lived in a time where blacks were thought of as intellectually inferior, morally underdeveloped and less beautiful; to love a black was a crime and to have ties to black history is a curse. Martin wanted to resist and stand up for the truth but he didn’t want to labeled as another “black version of the Ku Klux Klan”; by leading the resistance in hate like Malcolm X or the Black Panthers did, but he led it by solely loving those who persecuted their very freedom and human rights. He didn’t become another wounded hurter but rather he became a wounded hero.
A basic google search on Martin Luther King Jr. states that he was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement. Cornel stated that Martin talked about how people didn’t understand who he was. Many people simply thought of him as an activist, however, Cornel urges us to think differently. It wasn’t a career choice for Martin, it was his calling ordained by God. Martin could have easily chosen to be anything in life, he could have been a minister in his hometown or could have work a regular 9-5 job like everyone else, however, he decided to embark upon the path that God had ordained for him.
When I think of Martin Luther King Jr, I often times think of Moses. Moses was born as a persecuted Hebrew yet was raised as an Egyptian prince by Pharoah’s daughter. He had it good, he could do anything he wanted in life, in fact, he was supposed to be the next Pharoah, yet he threw that all away when he saw the persecution of all the Israelites that were in slavery under the rule of the Egyptians. Moses killed an Egyptian overseer when he saw him beating a slave. From that moment on, his life was never the same, he forsook all he knew, the riches, the fame, even his family to figure his identity and the true and living God. Moses eventually discovered that he wasn’t Egyptian, he, in fact, was a persecuted Hebrew just like all those slaves. From there on, God revealed to him his calling, he was supposed to lead the Israelites out of the bondage of the Egyptians into freedom in the land that God had promised them. Martin Luther Kings Jr was the modern day Moses, they both found their destiny in the suffering of the people, their calling was to deliver those in bondage and bring them into freedom. Cornel West said that Martin calling was his life task, it was a task that God ordained from him to only do.
Just like Moses, Martin had a burden to not stop until he saw his people free. Cornel West said that he had long term resilience and perseverance to not stop despite the harsh warfare because of his love. Martin had a love for all his brothers and sisters, he exemplified wisdom not to show how smart he was but rather to keep love alive. However, he struggled with those Americans would never accept, respect or even love black people. He even wanted those blacks who stood out on the corner every day, who were considered nothing, even within the black community, to be loved and respected. Martin destiny was to gain respect and love for every single black person.
Another key point that Cornel mentioned was that Martin died in ordered to live. Martin died daily, he died by criticizing himself, questioning his ideas. He was letting go of some of his doctrines and choosing to deny himself by not living comfortably yet taking on the suffering of the people in order that he may live and others after him may live by the freedom that was birthed through bondage. His dying daily wasn’t only spiritual but eventually, it was physical death. This concept of dying order to live is actually a teaching of Jesus found in the Bible. In fact, Martin Luther King Jr is a representation of who Jesus is. Jesus took on the burden of sin for everything single human before he even walked on this earth (Adam & Eve’s days) up until the last human is to be born (maybe thousands of years now) so that we live free from the penalty of sin which leads to physical and spiritual death to be reconciled back with God all because of Jesus laying down his life for us. Martin died spiritually and physically that the persecute black people may live in freedom and not be denied of their constitutional rights.
Cornel West made me reflect on my own practices as a designer/artist as well as confirmed my beliefs as a Christian. He brought to light a deeper revelation of what type of man Martin Luther King was which should make us all question who we are and seek for our God-ordained calling.