In the Republic, Plato famously (or infamously) argues against the practice of imitative arts by those who will guard and rule the just city. Plato claims that those who engage in imitation lack knowledge of the things that they imitate. According to Plato, those who engage in these arts run the risk of taking on the character traits of those they imitate. This could result in psychological strife that would damage the soul and inhibit the moral functioning of those individuals engaging in imitation. We have in Ben Vereen a living, breathing counter argument to Plato’s claims.
During a career that has spanned over 50 years, Ben Vereen has used acting, song, and dance to entertain thousands of people. Vereen’s acting displays a deep understanding of the complex psychological terrain navigated by his character. In 1977, Ben Vereen was among the stars of the ABC miniseries Roots. I remember as a young man watching in anguish as Ben Vereen’s character Chicken George was sold off to settle a debt. I remember the fear I felt as the night riders threatened George and his family. Vereen navigated the complex psychological terrain of George with skill and grace. As you look over his career, there are numerous nuanced performances such as this. He was compelling as the Leading Player in Pippin and as Judas Iscariot in Jesus Christ Superstar.
Instead of leading to internal strife predicted by Plato, Vereen’s artistry has given him a sense of peace and purpose. After so many years of performing, he is still happiest when he is on stage. His work on stage has opened up avenues of activism off stage. For example, Vereen has been tireless in working on diabetes education with the S.T.A.N.D foundation. He has formed the organization Wellness Through The Arts. He has worked with the Boys and Girls Club, Special Olympics, and the Caring Foundation among others. Vereen has used the triumphs and trials that make up his personal journey to work with communities and college students to overcome adversity, promote the value of arts education, and teach black history.
By Dr. Rodmon King
Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Diversity Initiatives
King came to Centre from Hobart and William Smith (HWS), where he served on campus committees such as the Committee on the Faculty, the Committee on Academic Affairs, and the Committee on Diversity, Equity and Social Justice. He has also served on several advisory boards, including the HWS Higher Education Opportunities Program, the Centennial Center of Leadership, and the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. King’s hiring coincided with Centre’s $750,000 award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a four-year project to enhance diversity and inclusion on campus.
For his many efforts, King has received numerous accolades, including the Community Service Award from the Geneva, N.Y., Chapter of the NAACP, the HWS Annual Faculty Teaching Award, the SANKOFA Faculty Leadership Award and a Higher Education Opportunities Program Faculty Award.
His research and teaching interests are in the areas of social justice, ethical theory, African/African philosophy, philosophy of race, ancient Greek philosophy, applied ethics, environmental philosophy and philosophy of language.
King earned his B.A. in religion and philosophy at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, N.Y. His M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in philosophy were both earned at the University of Rochester.
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