On January 23, 2019, the RISD community and I had the honor in attending a lecture by Dr. Cornel West at the Rhode Island School of Design for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Dr. West is an activist through his philosophies and writings. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard in three years and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton. During his speech, he revealed key points in the importance of preserving the connection in humanity as a community. In his lecture, he stated a powerful message: one must learn how to die to begin rebirth. This referenced the empowerment a community must obtain in order to continue healing each other in the midsts of uncertainty. In order to succeed in this, we must love. Without love, we begin to separate human beings and stop resisting in adapting to indifference. To manifest pain that lives within these indifferences is to shatter calluses created in communities. He strongly urges us to speak badly and fearlessly as Martin Luther King Jr. did.
By going beyond a sense of superficiality, he argues the true fulfillment in our education system should undergo metamorphosis. By allowing our level of empathy to grow, so does our intellect. He also goes into the particulars of accepting the differences within humankind and their identities; The defying variations of religion and their critical consciousness. Dr. Cornel reference the stated by Martin Luther King, “one must shatter conformity and dig deep in the shadows of his own soul.” We must learn to accept everyone’s individuality whether we agree with them or oppose to them. By strengthening our empathy in deeper learning, we are able to undergo multiple point of views with acceptance and allows us to speak more boldly and more passionately with a sense of true safety. I, for one, completely live by these rules of ethics. I believe one must accept education with a deeper understanding of greater possibilities. Although there is no shame in receiving gratification from hard work, there needs to be a greater deal of work within the society we live in. There is a bigger reveal of one’s self within this deeper work that goes beyond superficiality, self image, and surfaced experiences. Dr. West states, “Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t care to be in the spotlight or to be liked, he wanted to shake society’s core to reveal how people should stand firm in the people’s rights. He has a calling.” Furthermore, he also states beauty and goodness believe in are are rooted in the totality of suffering. However, i do believe in these statements as a measure of accountability to give back to society, i don’t believe every piece of work has to be deemed as less than. As he states that unrelated art to human suffering is too easily digestible and confirmative. “If we want to break conformity together we have to be able to connect to something that is much larger than us.” As this statement is referring to something deeper and bigger than us that has been rooting within our suffering. Dr. Cornel states this pain as revolutionary piety and referred to it as a catastrophe and not just a mere problem. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t fighting for African American rights because it was a problem but a great catastrophe. This catastrophe was created through militarism and oppression of African Americans population at the time. “Let us always measure America by racism, militarism, and materialism.” Martin Luther King Jr. used the process of Kenosis–an idea originating from Christian theology on emptying oneself in an act of sacrifice. His what e expressed that rather than any physical object produced, the sum of your life is what you live for and fight for. As he urges in his lecture to the students that attended, to “give it your all,” as a sense of total passion. This philosophy of starting with the cup full until it is completely empty.
This lecture was very eye-opening in the sense of regaining my own power to empower others. In my Democratic Erosion class, we studied and discussed systemic backsliding and the rights to the freedom of speech to create a democratic baseline. Art and design is a powerful tool we hold in our very hands to break the shackles of repression, especially living in the United States.
For a some other countries, these conditions are particularly different in terms of suppressing ones voice. However, I personally create work that is dedicated to Latinxs outside of the U.S. for I was an immigrant from Peru. I take a great privilege in using my skills for something greater than I, and to give voice to those that don’t. I’m curious if there is a new way of expressing and stretching out a hand outside of the United States for all of us.