A Harvard doctoral candidate and native Jackson Countian was guest speaker at Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at Chipola College, and in his speech talked about the importance of remembering, appreciating and steeping yourself in knowledge of your roots.
For professional philosopher Darien Pollock, those run through the soil, the history and the people of his home community.
Also a philosophy instructor for Harvard’s summer school program while he finishes another year of his studies there, Pollock graduated from Cottondale High School as its first African-American male valedictorian. Darien Pollock also took his first college courses at Chipola College and earned his undergraduate degree at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater. Pollock was also a Rhodes Scholarship finalist.
Pollock recalled his own days at Morehouse, where he graduated with honors, imagining sometimes that he might be sitting in the same chair that civil rights icon King might have occupied in his own days there.
The young man is making his own kind of inroads as he builds his professional career. Pollock doesn’t plan to be a preacher like King, but he does plan to teach as King often did — and he takes his work to the streets, as King so often did.
Pollock founded the Street Philosophy Institute (SPI). It’s a mobile, proactive difference-maker in Jackson County and wherever Pollock sees a need for more open, frequent, honest and relaxed public discourse about issues that matter, like voting rights and the exercising of those rights.
Pollock spoke Monday about the importance of knowing and honoring one’s roots.
“It’s how we get to know who we are, where we come from,” he said, and it can help map out a path to the future.
A recognized scholar, having traveled the world at age 26, and living out his academic and life dreams as he is, Pollock says it’s important for young people here to appreciate where they come from and to reject any supposition that they’re from a place in the world that lacks talent — he encountered that attitude in the first words a Morehouse advisor spoke to him. He told Pollock that he was a rarity, as a student coming in from Northwest Florida. The school doesn’t recruit here, the counselor said, because “there’s not much talent” in the area.
That statement stung, and Pollock hopes to see more young people prove just how wrong that man was. But to do that, Pollock advises, a person has to believe in and develop his own gifts and believe in, respect, and take good advantage of the support he finds in his community, that of elders and others who have his best interests at heart. Holding onto that support, but breaking the “rules” embedded in any doubting society’s less-than-great expectations is necessary, he said, to live one’s best and most productive life.
He drew on biblical examples and the works of ancient philosophers to prove that people from any place and time in the world can succeed and change the world for the better.
He’s doing his part toward that end.
Pollock’s SPI has helped lead voter registration drives here and elsewhere, and has been an avid supporter for the restoration of released felons’ voting rights. He also ran an online campaign that raised more than $5,000 to help victims of Hurricane Michael with essential survival supplies in its aftermath.
He continues to support and name with pride his home community in the circles he now travels around the country and world.
And he’s preparing for another round of teaching, and ultimately a career as a professor of philosophy. At Harvard, he recently taught a course in which he and his students examined recent philosophical pieces on racial justice.
As an undergraduate at Morehouse, where he was ranked at the top of his senior class, he conducted two independent research projects in normative ethics and political philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University, his Harvard biography states. “His research interests include the philosophy of perception, epistemology, social ontology, meta-ethics, and the philosophy of race. He also serves as a teaching fellow and writing tutor in the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. In addition to his work as an academic philosopher, Darien is the founder and president of the Street Philosophy Institute, Inc. (SPI), a Massachusetts-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting research in the area of public philosophy,” the biography continues.