Texas Tech University

Harry Belafonte, Cornel West to Speak during African-American History Month

Glenys Young

January 25, 2016

Lectures will focus on activism and the endurance of racism in Barack Obama’s America.

Harry Belafonte

Entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte and racial justice champion Cornel West will speak to the Texas Tech University community in February as part of the 2016 African-American History Month Lecture Series.

Belafonte will give his speech, "My Life in Activism," at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Student Union Building's Allen Theatre. West's speech, scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 25 in the Allen Theatre, will discuss what has and has not changed for black Americans and other racial minorities during Barack Obama's presidency.

Both lectures are free and open to the public but space is limited. Tickets, which are limited to two per person, are available on a first-come, first-served basis in Doak Hall, Room 101, beginning Feb. 1.

"The goal of the lecture series is to bring distinguished African-American writers, artists and others to Texas Tech to share their stories with our community," said Karlos Hill, founding director of the lecture series and an associate professor in the Texas Tech Department of History. "This is a really good opportunity for the university to increase awareness of African-American history and life, so I'm really looking forward to these lectures."

Belafonte was the first black performer to win an Emmy Award and the first recording artist to sell more than a million copies of a single album with "Calypso" (1956) featuring his hit "Day-O." After he met a young Martin Luther King Jr. in the early 1950s, the two developed a deep and abiding friendship, and Belafonte played a key role in the civil rights movement, including the 1963 March on Washington. In 1985, disturbed by war, drought and famine in Africa, Belafonte helped organize the Grammy-winning song "We Are the World," a multi-artist effort to raise funds for Africa. Belafonte was active in efforts to end apartheid in South Africa and release Nelson Mandela from prison.

He served as the cultural adviser for the Peace Corps, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and was honored as an Ambassador of Conscience by Amnesty International. Recently, Belafonte founded the Sankofa Justice & Equity Fund, a nonprofit social justice organization that utilizes the power of culture and celebrity in partnership with activism. Belafonte received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in November 2014.

"Harry Belafonte is someone who is distinguished as an entertainer, but over his career and even recently he's been very outspoken about American politics and the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq," Hill said. "He's 88 years old and I was told by his agent this is probably going to be the last year he's in the lecture circuit because he's starting to slow down a little bit. So we thought this was a great opportunity to get someone of his caliber here to talk to our students about what it means to be an activist, to be a change agent in society. And hopefully he can inspire our students to be change agents."

Cornel West

As one of America's most provocative public intellectuals, West has been a champion for racial justice since childhood. His writing, speaking and teaching weave together the traditions of the Black Baptist Church, progressive politics and jazz. West is a professor of philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary and professor emeritus at Princeton University. He also taught at Yale, Harvard and the University of Paris. His 1993 book, "Race Matters," a searing analysis of racism in American democracy, is a bestseller.

In 1993, he was the winner of The American Book Award. West has written more than 20 books and has edited 13. He offers commentary weekly on "The Tavis Smiley Show" and is a frequent guest on "Real Time with Bill Maher," "The Colbert Report," CNN, C-Span and Democracy Now. He has appeared in more than 25 documentaries and films and has made three spoken-word albums.

"Cornel West is probably the most recognized, pre-eminent African American studies professor in America today," Hill said. "He was probably one of Obama's most vocal critics of foreign policy and domestic policy in terms of the treatment of African-Americans, so we thought it would be great to have him talk about how black Americans have fared during Obama's presidency.

"Many people thought Obama's election meant we had overcome racism in this county. West has been pushing against that, saying how black Americans are still facing discrimination and racism as we see with Black Lives Matter and other social issues. We wanted someone with his level of credibility to come in and help us understand what perspective we ought to have on President Obama right now and going forward."

The African-American History Month Lecture Series is sponsored by the Office of the President, the Office of the Provost and the Division of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement. It is co-sponsored by the College of Visual & Performing Arts, the Department of History, the Department of Political Science, the Women's Studies Program, the Humanities Center, the Honors College, the Cross-Cultural Academic Advancement Center and the Black Faculty and Staff Association.