Cornel West has been a strong and vibrant voice for many years now as a public intellectual and prophet. Tavis Smiley, the PBS talk show host who is his friend, credits West with having a "usable intellect — meaning that he can address the issues of the day with drama and vibrancy lacking in most of his academic peers."
We have just caught up with Hope on a Tightrope, which was published in 2008. In 2014, West's summary of the state of emergency in the country is still true:
"We are now in one of the most truly prophetic moments in the history of America. The poor and very poor are sleeping with self-destruction. The working and the middle classes are struggling against paralyzing pessimism and the privileged are swinging between cynicism and hedonism. Yes, these are the circumstances that people of conscience must operate under during this moment of national truth or consequences."
West calls for courage to interrogate ourselves. When we do that, we will get an inkling of how well-adjusted we are to injustice. No wonder we fail to see the connections between "the killing fields of the plantations, the bodies hanging from the trees, police brutality, the prison-industrial complex, and the Superdome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina." Race has been, and still is, the force that may shatter the bright future of the nation.
As a preacher West challenges Christians to be decent and compassionate persons. As a teacher, West calls for visionary leaders who love and serve the people. This public intellectual admits "when you talk about hope, you have to be long distance runner." Patience and perseverance are the paths he has taken. And he asks us to join him in a circle of hope and to see the big picture. He even supplies some handy definitions of deep democracy, the gangsterization of America, post-modern, and prophetic Christianity. If you want to become a long distance runner, be sure to check out the books and the music West recommends for the journey.