Known for: Cornel West, a John F. Kennedy High School graduate, is a social and economic philosopher. He is professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University.
Background: West was born in Tulsa, Okla. His father was a civilian Air Force administrator and his mother a teacher. West grew up in Sacramento before moving east and earning degrees from Harvard and Princeton. West's 1993 "Race Matters," which sold 400,000 copies, touched a nerve in the American public and triggered a national debate on race issues. He was also part of former President Clinton's National Conversation on Race. West received the Lannan 2005 Prize for Cultural Freedom at Shiloh Baptist Church in Sacramento, his childhood house of worship. The award recognizes work celebrating the human right to freedom of imagination, inquiry and expression. His latest book is "Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism."
A highlight: Irene B. West Elementary School in North Laguna Creek is named for West's mother, who was a teacher and a principal in the Elk Grove Unified School District for 27 years.
In History's Spotlight profiles of Sacramento newsmakers were published originally in 2007 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of The Sacramento Bee. They were written by Anthony Sorci. Look for them every Sunday in Sac History Happenings.