At a December 4 event organized by two students, the compelling Princeton philosophy professor Dr. Cornel West held forth on the subject of “Activism in the Age of Mass Incarceration” and clearly captivated a standing-room-only crowd that had gathered to hear him.

West, hailed as “one of the greatest critical minds of our time,” was the evening’s keynote speaker before being joined on a panel discussion by two equally engaging personalities, Dr. Kahlil Gibran Muhammad, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the rap artist/activist Immortal Technique.

West impressed upon the audience the notion that the United States fails in its responsibility by not focusing on “real issues,” such as poverty and stop-and-frisk abuses. Muhammad provided crucial historical perspective to a broader understanding of why and how things are as they are, while Immortal Technique added a personal narrative of hope for those whose lives have been touched by the criminal justice system.

Although the event was scheduled for roughly two hours, West spent more than five hours on campus. He was treated with near-rock star adulation by the students, who swarmed around him after the event, seeking to pose for pictures, shake his hand or simply say hello.

The event was organized by Sally Abdel Ghafar, a John Jay-Vera Fellow, and John Cusick, a volunteer with the College’s Center on Race, Crime and Justice, with funding support from the John Jay Student Council, the Debate Society and the Office of Student Life. Key co-sponsors were the Center on Race, Crime and Justice and the John Jay-Vera Fellows Program.

The presentation was streamed live and is currently being edited for a DVD.

An international leader in educating for justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York offers a rich liberal arts and professional studies curriculum to upwards of 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 135 nations. In teaching, scholarship and research, the College approaches justice as an applied art and science in service to society and as an ongoing conversation about fundamental human desires for fairness, equality and the rule of law. For more information, visit


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