West Brings Regional Impact

The addition of Cornel West '74 to the Afro-American studies department has been touted as a major accomplishment for Harvard. But, according to several of Boston's leaders, West's presence should be felt throughout the area.

West has become involved in the African-American community of many cities in which he has worked.

The religion scholar has been credited with infusing present-day civil rights movement with int ellectual rigor. West, according to many observers, has displayed the unique ability to move between the academic and the everyday world.

"There is tremendous hunger out there for a man who can speak the language of politics and the church and the academy. And I hope desperately that he will take deep root here," said Christopher Lydon, a former Boston mayoral candidate and WGBH-TV host

Lydon said that Boston needs West to stay here and not use the city only as a mailing address. "I hope we won't lose him to the cosmic lecture circuit," Lydon, who interviewed West about his latest book Race Matters.


"He can talk street, he can talk church, he can talk Widener Library as well as Kennedy School Forum," Lydon said.

In an interview yesterday, however, West stressed that his role as an academic placed limitations on his ability to be a community leader.

"Certainly, we want to strive to have serious connections to the community," West said. "I think that it's important that we understand what expectations are and say that, as persons trying to make sense of the world, what we bring to the larger community is precisely this deep commitment to fusing the life of the mind with the enhancement of the community."

"On the other hand, of course, we have limitations." he added.

Nonetheless, community leaders said they were excited about West's arrival.

The Rev. Howard McLendon of the Mass. Ave. Baptist Church in Cambridge said that Boston's African-American community needs people who will affect change in local affairs.

"There is certainly a great deal of need in thegreater Boston area, so anyone who is willing toget involved in the community is especially neededand welcome," he said.

The Rev. Mickarl D. Thomas [cq] of the CharlesStreet Church in Roxbury also expressed excitementat having West in Boston.

"[West] will be an asset to the cultural andthe unique sociology of the African-Americancommunity," Thomas said. "His presence along withmany others who work diligently already will bringto the forefront the reality that Boston... mustrecognize racial problems that are still alive."

Lydon said, "There is an invitation here toweave the mantles of Martin Luther King Jr. andMalcolm X into something really important... for acountry that is still in a deep racial crisis...Cornell [West] is one of the handful of people whoare capable of doing that."

"I think he is a kind of priceless gift," saidLydon