PALM BEACH GARDENS — The problem with people today is that they don’t love one another or themselves enough. That’s the message which noted college professor and activist Cornel West brought to a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Sunday and in a separate interview.
“You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people,” said West, professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary and professor-emeritus at Princeton University. “That’s the problem with our young folk; they’re not loved enough.”
“There’s too much poverty and not enough self-love,” West said. “There’s just not enough people who love themselves. If you don’t love yourself, you’re in a world of trouble.”
The message resonated with the several hundred people gathered at the Doubletree Hotel in Palm Beach Gardens for the city of Riviera Beach’s Inaugural Awards and Musical Banquet held in King’s honor, a week after the national King Holiday and a first for the city.
“Dr. West is the epitome of unconditional love,” Port Commissioner Dr. Jean Enright said after the speech. “He made us think about all the people that came before us. He made us think that I am who I am because somebody loved me.”
Donald Wilson, a longtime Riviera Beach resident, said West was speaking on a universal theme that was “badly needed here in Riviera Beach: loving thy neighbor. There’s a need to show more love toward one another,” he said.
West said programs such as the Roosevelt Leadership Academy for Young Men, the first school in Palm Beach County exclusively for black males, are important in instilling self-esteem and leadership. A similar initiative, the Cornel West Academy of Excellence, was started in Raleigh, N.C., for black boys in second through sixth grade.
“The results there have been amazing,” West said in the interview. “Anything that touches the lives of our young black boys is amazing.”
He said that on his next visit to the area, he would like to visit the Roosevelt school and speak to the students.
West defended President Barack Obama against attacks by Congressional
Republicans, saying they were “too disrespectful of the office of the presidency.” He said being critical is not the same as being disrespectful.
“There’s a racist element to it, certainly,” he added. “It’s not all racism but there’s an element of racism there. That’s one part of it.” West is himself a critic of Obama and during the interview he accused the president of not doing enough to address poverty – which is an issue Obama has been raising recently.
“I look at him through the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – and King set such a high standard,” West said. “The president hasn’t hit it head-on. There’s so many precious young brothers and sisters living in poverty.”He told the audience that 40 percent of black children are living in poverty, describing the situation as “a crime against humanity.”
Obama, he said, “has got a lot of work to do to reach the level of King. I’ve been profoundly disappointed.” West said progress had been made in embracing highly successful black people. “On the other hand,” he added, “we’ve regressed in treating the poor with dignity. It’s like a tale of two cities.”
West called for more leaders who are concerned about people, adding he was “deeply impressed” with Riviera Beach Councilman Terence T.D. Davis, with whom he spent the day leading up to the banquet.
West had in fact come at the invitation of Davis, who met the professor for the first time when he arrived in the city. Davis said he had studied West for years, watching his videos on YouTube.
“We need more young leaders like him,” West said. “He’s a special brother. He puts a smile on my face. He’s willing to take a stand.”
Eureka Irvin, chairwoman of Riviera Beach’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. banquet committee, was pleased to have West as the inaugural speaker at the black-tie affair.
“His speech fits every aspect of your life. It was great, inspiring, challenging,” she said.