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Zachery R. Williams

African American philosopher, public intellectual, theologian, and activist. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Cornel West was raised the grandson of a Baptist minister. The influences of the black church made an indelible impact on his emerging consciousness. In his youth, he obtained a reputation as highly intelligent and outspoken regarding matters of inequality.

As an adolescent growing up in Sacramento, California, West came under the influence of the Black Panther Party. It was during this crucial period in West's maturation that he acquired his abiding interest in democratic socialism. Early on, he came to view black progress through a global lens. Among the parallel influences on West were the writings and activities of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medgar Wylie Evers. There was no doubt in the eyes of many that West was on his way to becoming a scholar-activist.

In 1970 ...

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Marian Aguiar

Cornel West was born in Oklahoma, a place once envisioned as a homeland for Native Americans displaced by European colonization, and for African Americans acting on the freedom promised by emancipation. The grandson of a Baptist minister, he was reared in the Baptist Church, and the church has remained a significant presence in his life since. Even as a child, West was articulate, outspoken, and politically engaged. In elementary school he convinced a group of his classmates to stop saluting the flag to protest the second-class citizenship afforded to African Americans.

West encountered the activities of the Black Panther Party while living in Sacramento, California. The Panthers informed his early thinking about democratic socialism and acquainted him with an internationalist vision for black enfranchisement. He was also inspired by the teachings of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, as well as by the music of John Coltrane ...