08 Apr

Profound Mentoring Enables Us to Rise to Our Fullest Potential

Posted by Obiora N. Anekwe

This week I had the opportunity to visit with my former professor and mentor, Dr. Cornel West, at his office at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, where he teaches. It was a special day for me and my wife, Rev. Alexis Y. Southerland Anekwe, who came back to her alma mater and joined me in our visit. It had been a year since our annual meeting and our visit was as special as ever before. We discussed my latest research projects, books, articles, and artwork in bioethics, education, and the visual arts. But before our visit, Alexis and I were greeted with our usual hug and jubilant gestures, which re-emphasized to me how precious Professor West’s prolific and prophetic genius is to our nation and the world. We were both especially impressed by the immense amount and diversity of books that surrounded Professor West’s office, which brought a renewed sense of encouragement to the both of us that knowledge is truly power!


As a public intellectual and truth-teller, Professor Cornel West has merged for decades civil and social justice issues within his public discourse much like sociologist Dr. W.E.B. DuBois once professed in his socially challenging and thought-provoking research. Both men have informed us all in the most ethical way how to live a morally just life. It was Professor West’s groundbreaking book, Race Matters, that struck a cord in my consciousness growing up in the South just as Professor DuBois’ socially conscious book, The Souls of Black Folk, that also encouraged and pushed me to study hard in order to allow my mind to be the greatest tool of justice and truth. In turn, these men collectively taught me that my mind must become the most potent weapon loaded with purposeful knowledge in order to win at the war of life.

Since my last personal visit with Professor West, I have written four books and produced many visual artworks that reflect ethical themes in bioethics and special education. As I showed Professor West my latest research documents, he was so impressed that he told me that in his opinion I am “one of the most prolific intellectuals of my generation.” To say the least, I was greatly humble by these words.

It was also greatly satisfying to hear how Professor West saw Alexis and me as a genuine couple who desired to serve our people in order to make a positive change within our community.  These kind and generous words meant more that I could mention. In addition, Professor West also reflected with us on the life and legacy of the great preacher and civil rights icon, Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor (June 18, 1918 – April 5, 2015), who recently died on April 5th. Known as the Dean of American Preaching, Rev. Dr. Taylor was a close friend and mentor to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He played a prominent role in the religious leadership of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s and also helped to establish the Progressive National Baptist Convention with Dr. King, providing an important base of support for King's civil rights work.

As our conversation came to a conclusion, Professor West continued his thoughts by adding that  this past weekend he spoke at the funeral of Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor. He added that although Dr. King had parents who deeply loved him and served as distinct role models to him, he often looked up to Dr. Taylor as a big brother and moral compass in difficult times. Coincidentally, Alexis’ father, Rev. Plato Southerland (January 20,1924-July 8, 2001) served as an assistant pastor and director of Christian Education at Concord Baptist in Brooklyn, New York with pastor emeritus Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor.

Dr. West ended our discussion by noting that our visit with him was especially encouraging and refreshing to him because many of our contemporary gifted leaders lack genuine integrity. After our hour long visit with Professor West, I knew that my wife and I had a moral and ethical responsibility to continue encouraging and helping our young people in Brooklyn. Young leaders in our generation also have a responsibility to lead by example. One of the most powerful ways we, as a people, can begin to fully succeed in our communities is by realizing that profound mentoring enables us all to rise to our fullest potential. As such, I strive to continue to look beyond myself in order to give my best self to my people who need me the most. Before we left Professor West’s office, he stopped and prayed with us, including Ms. Maria Cole, his assistant, so that we may be strengthened in our journey to grow and continue to serve God in our most valuable way.

Ethically Speaking,

Obiora N. Anekwe
April 8, 2015

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