CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Coastal Carolina opened a new department to study the Gullah people - descendants of enslaved Africans who lived in the Low country regions of Georgia and South Carolina. The keynote speaker for the grand opening, Cornel West, is a regular on Bill Maher, the Colbert Report, and a former professor at Yale, Harvard and the University of Paris.
While Coastal Carolina is opening a new institute for Gullah and African Diaspora Studies, what brought hundreds of people to campus Friday evening wasn't just the opening of a new department, it was the renowned keynote speaker - Cornel West.
"Look at Robert Smalls," said Cornel West. "Coming out of that Gullah culture, the father of the first compulsory education system in the whole country, when he went to the state capital and said, 'You know what? Education, especially humanistic education, should be available to everybody.'"
The Wheelwright Auditorium was filled to capacity as people from all over came to see West speak. It was a night of passion, filled with soulful language anchored by gospel on both ends.
"It was absolutely incredible to actually see him," said Reggie Bell, one of the many audience members. "To hear his words, for not only the young people but for everyone in the room regardless of race."
West said he identifies with the Gullah people. While he is a distinguished intellectual who is widely renowned, the overarching message he spoke about is the difference between being educated and being wise, and the emphasis of wisdom over success.
"The highest blessing that I will ever have the honor of receiving has nothing to do with Harvard or Yale, or Princeton or University of Paris. It has to do with being the second son of the late Clifton and the present Irene B. West," West said.
West spoke for nearly two hours and took questions from audience members for about another half hour. He stayed afterward to meet, greet and sign autographs from audience members.
Audience members described West as an invigorating speaker. Some audience members said they completely lost track of time and had no idea it had been nearly two and a half hours.