Students at a Harlem school that could be closed got an unlikely ally today: famed philosopher Cornel West.
West spoked to students this morning at Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts as part of librarian Paul McIntosh’s long-running speaker series meant to inspire students to stay on the right track.
Wadleigh and another school in the building, Frederick Douglass Academy II, are on the Department of Education’s shortlist of schools whose performance is so weak that they could be closed.
“I think it’s unfair and unjust and I intend to fight to make sure the school’s history and legacy is preserved,” West said after the speech. “We’re not going to allow this to happen.”
At one point, a student from P.S. 123, a Harlem school that currently shares space in its building with a charter school asked West directly if he would help her and others at her school protest against the co-location. Here’s the video:
In his 30-minute speech, West focused focused on students’ need to take charge of their black and minority identities by embracing education. Channeling everyone from Socrates to John Coltrane to Lil Wayne, his animated comments on life, death, equality, and music regularly elicited roars from the crowd, made up of students and faculty from at least three schools.
Sharing the stage with West were several students from Wadleigh who greeted him with a skit to illuminate the many roles he has played over his life: author, philosopher, actor, activist, and educator. Many of the students who attended were enrolled in Wadleigh’s performing arts programs and said they were inspired by West’s visit.
“His message was strong,” Jamal Augustin, a junior from Brownsville. “He sees education as the only way out, especially for black minorities.”
“It was great to have someone who really means something to the world visit our little school in Harlem,” said Leishkadelith Gonell, a ninth-grader who said she is majoring in dance.