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January 6, 1997

Cornel West here for Martin Luther King, Jr., lecture

Cornel West will address American race relations in the context of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and legacy at UCSC's thirteenth annual convocation in memory of the slain civil rights leader. The convocation will take place on Monday, January 27, at 4 p.m. in the Performing Arts Theater.

An author, philosopher, and professor of the philosophy of religion and Afro-American studies at Harvard University, West discussed the subjects of race and race relations in a best-selling 1993 book, Race Matters. In West's keynote speech of the same name, he will discuss the "collapse of meaning" and the consequences of economic decline, cultural decay, and political lethargy in American life.

Chancellor Greenwood will deliver opening remarks, and Professor Angela Davis will introduce West. Admission is free, but tickets are required and available in advance from the Ticket Office (see ticketing information at end of article).

Open to the general public, the convocation honors the memory of Dr. King with speakers, music, and a keynote address.

West, whom the director of Harvard's Department of Afro-American Studies described in emerge magazine as the "pre-eminent African-American intellectual of our time," rose to prominence from modest beginnings.

Born in 1953 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to a civilian Air Force administrator and an elementary school teacher, West later moved with his family to Sacramento.

During his childhood in Sacramento, he was influenced by both the Baptist church and the Black Panthers. From his early involvement in the church, West gained a strong spiritual center and the foundation for his dramatic speaking style. From the Black Panthers, who had an office near his church, West says he began to understand about the importance of community-based political action.

Yet, it was a biography of Teddy Roosevelt that steered his academic future. In the biography, eight-year-old West read that, like himself, the former president had suffered from asthma. He learned that Roosevelt overcame his asthma, went to Harvard University, and became a great speaker. West decided to follow Roosevelt to Harvard.

A dozen years later, after spending three years at Harvard, West graduated magna cum laude. He went on to study at Princeton University, where he received his M.A. in 1975 and his Ph.D. in 1980. In 1988, after teaching at schools including Yale University's Divinity School, the Union Theological Seminary, and Barnard College, he returned to Princeton to direct the Afro-American Studies Program and teach religion. In 1994, he joined the faculty at Harvard.

At Harvard's Department of Afro-American Studies, West is part of a select faculty, described by Peter Applebome of the New York Times as "perhaps the most celebrated assortment of scholars in America."

In addition to Race Matters, West has written numerous books about race, politics, and philosophy, including Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life (1991), a book he cowrote with author bell hooks. hooks (who writes her name entirely in lower-case letters) delivered the keynote address for the 1995 Martin Luther King convocation. West cowrote his most recent book, The Future of the Race (1996), with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who directs Harvard's Department of Afro-American Studies.

At the convocation, a member of the local community will offer an invocation and local musicians (not named by press time) will perform. For members of the campus community unable to attend, the convocation will be broadcast live at the Performing Arts Concert Hall, the Kresge College Town Hall, and on campus cable channel 48. A reception follows the event.

The convocation is presented by Arts & Lectures and the Division of Student Affairs.

Parking is free in the Performing Arts parking lot during the event, but space is limited. If possible, people attending should ride campus shuttles or carpool. Call 459-2159 for more information.

Beginning at noon on Wednesday, January 22, tickets will be available at no cost at the Ticket Office. Also beginning at that time, tickets may be reserved by phone; those wishing to attend are strongly encouraged to reserve tickets in person as demand is expected to be high. There is a two-ticket-per-person limit. People with disability-related needs are asked to indicate those needs when they request tickets.

--Francine Tyler

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