"How are you, my brothers?": Adventures with Cornel West by Yves Etheart (aka Mikhaela's boyfriend)
Cornel West's departure has got me thinking about my friend Glenn, who died almost a year ago. This story is a tribute to both of them.
I used to work at the Harvard Book Store with Glenn, and the HBS serves as an unofficial "university bookstore" for the students across the street. Plenty of professors would put books on reserve there, and they would come into the store frequently to shop for themselves. Some of the professors would act imperiously towards the staff, as you might expect from denizens of the "ivory tower," but Professor West would always go out of his way to be kind to us.
Anyway, Glenn and I were at the registers one day, ringing up customers, and Professor West brings up a stack of books. "How are you, my brothers?" he asked us (he refers to everyone as "brother" or "sister," which is part of his charm).
I reflexively responded that I was fine. Glenn was, as always, honest, and told Cornel that he had been better, but he was running a little short on cash. (The Harvard Book Store was a great job, but it didn't pay the best in the world, since they are an independent.)
Professor West then proceeded to take money out of his pocket, and offered $40 to Glenn, right then and there, at the register.
Glenn was really embarrassed -- he had told Professor West the truth, but definitely wasn't looking for a handout or anything like that. He declined several times, but Professor West refused to take no for an answer, and didn't let Glenn ring him up until he had taken the money.
This experience reminds me what I appreciate most about both of them. No matter what, Glenn was sincere, and he spoke his mind to West when most other people in his position would have just made polite conversation. And even though $40 wasn't a big deal for someone like Professor West, he honestly wanted to help another human being in need -- and he wasn't doing it to show off, or to impress the other customers, but because he wanted to help Glenn, because he could.
Thank you, Professor West. Princeton's gain is Massachusetts' loss. You will be missed.
For more info on West's departure, see previous post.