By Verbal Adam | OBSERVER Correspondent
Minutes before acclaimed writer, activist and 2024 presidential candidate Dr. Cornel West was due to take the stage at the Guild Theater on Sept. 1, the crowd had reached fever pitch. Many attendees had arrived hours early just to catch a glimpse of Sacramento’s native son. Inside the Guild, Dr. West’s nephews Jeff Nash and Cornel West worked with purpose putting the finishing touches on the lighting and sound system. Outside, a line of more than 100 people buzzed with excited whispers. Dr. West made a point to personally thank nearly every attendee who showed up to PoHop, the poetry event organized by his nephews. PoHop stands for POetry Helping Other People.
Stephanie Edwards, an elementary school educator who drove from Portland, Oregon, said she had been looking forward to seeing West speak for a long time.
“I’m really excited, I grew up hearing Cornel West on the news with my parents and I think he’s a great civil rights activist,” Edwards told The OBSERVER. “I really look up to him, and his hopefulness and optimism in these difficult times is inspiring.”
The show opened with a welcome from the organizers, which was followed by the introduction of Sacramento mayoral candidate Dr. Flojaune Cofer. Musical performances by Lucky Witherspoon and Shawn Raiford were met with thunderous applause. Several local poets performed sets as a painter seated on stage created a portrait of West, the Green Party candidate for the 2024 presidential election.
As the lights dimmed, the crowd rose and cheered as West took the stage. He held his hands over his heart and smiled at the warm reception.
“I am deeply blessed to be here, very deeply blessed,” West said. “PoHop is a consecrated space! This is no ordinary institution … blood, sweat and tears have been shed here for our cause.”
Many of the performers’ pieces that evening touched on subjects such as flawed democracy, the construct of discrimination, the nationwide gun crisis, liberation and the importance of education.
“We have to have the courage to raise our voices,” West said. “We cannot keep being well adjusted to injustice.”
The show reached its crescendo when West began performing songs and dancing. He shared the stage with his brother, Cliff and acclaimed local musician Derek “DOA” Allen. The room was electric with excitement and cheers. By the time West left the stage, attendees lined up through the hall and onto the sidewalk for a chance to meet him.
President of the California Black Chamber of Commerce Jay King was among those excited to see West.
“It was really inspiring and motivating to hear his words and to challenge ourselves and our ideas of justice, liberation, and how we contribute to it,” King said.
Many in attendance had wanted to meet West for a long time. West, who grew up in Sacramento, has written 20 books and edited 13, such as “Race Matters” and “Democracy Matters.” His most recent book, “Black Prophetic Fire,” is centered around 19th and 20th century African American leaders and their legacies.