by Juliana Odame Labi
In honor of Black History Month, New Jersey’s first African American senator, Cory Booker, came to speak at Rutgers University at the Douglass Campus Center on February 16, 2016. Hosted by the Eagleton Institute of Politics and the Barnes and Noble at Rutgers University, Cory Booker spoke about his book, United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good.
With his charismatic nature and sense of humor, Sen. Booker provided life lessons that we should all incorporate into our daily lives. Considering the racial turmoil that is affecting our nation today, he talked about his dream to unite the American people through the “power of kindness.”
Ruth Mandel, Director of Eagleton, introduced Sen. Booker and his long-time friend Bobbi Brown to the audience of over 350 people. Bobbi Brown is a professional makeup artist and the founder of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. Director Mandel thanked Sen. Booker for partaking in the year-long celebration of Eagleton’s 60th anniversary. In an informal conversation style, Brown asked her good friend questions about his impactful relationship with his late father, his 7-year mayoral career, and his hopes of “finding the common ground” through a bipartisan consensus.
United provides inspirational stories about his personal life and political career that has shaped him into the person he is today. The first few chapters sets the stage for a few of Senator Booker’s heroes, one including his late father, Cary Booker. Senator Cory Booker mentioned how much of an inspiration his father is in his life today. Having grown up in poverty to a single mother, in North Carolina, his father, was able to beat the racial and socioeconomic odds. Cory Booker reminisced on his father’s humor.
As told by Senator Booker, Cary Booker joked,“Don’t tell people I was poor. Don’t lie to them! I couldn’t afford to be poor. I was just po’! P-O! I couldn’t afford to be poor!”
Fortunately, the activism of the Civil Rights Movement allowed him to attend college and gain the opportunity to be one of the few African Americans to work in corporate America. Even as a New Jersey celebrity and social media social media connoisseur, he talked about the difficulties he faced in his elected positions. As a mayor, Sen. Booker lived in an affordable housing unit called Brick Towers. He recounts his experience of living in a low-income community. He explained that if he wanted to make a positive impact in Newark, he needed to see how detrimental the negative effect was on the city. During his mayoral career, he took extensive efforts to combat the city’s crime and corruption, reduce the unemployment rate, and increase economic development.
As the crucial theme in his book, Sen. Booker reiterated the “power of kindness” in the book talk. “You see heroism every day,” Sen. Booker claimed. He exemplifies this theme through the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. With so many people left homeless, many New Jerseyans opened their homes to other New Jerseyans that were displaced because of the storm. “As much things as I have done as an elected official, they fail in comparison to what ordinary citizens do out there every single day,” Sen. Booker noted. The “power of kindness” reflects the ordinary people that do the extraordinary things for other people in their communities. In reference to the Hurricane Sandy heroism, Sen. Booker said, “My hope for our country is that we don’t just see that during times of crisis, but we manifest that for dealing with the unfinished business of addressing justice in this country.”
Sen. Booker expressed his concern with the American criminal justice system. He stated the criminal justice system is “broken.” Criminal justice reform is a pressing issue that should not be taken lightly. In fact, Sen. Booker explains that the drug war targets certain communities. Even though white males sell more drugs than black males, black males in low-income areas are specifically targeted. This flawed criminal justice system enforces the law for the African American and Latino community, but sometimes disregards that same law for the white population. “We have a system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent,” says Sen. Booker.
According to Senator Cory Booker, finding a common ground and advancing the common good can be achieved with empathy and unity. Even with the problems that this nation is currently facing, Sen. Booker hopes that the American people can unite through the “power of kindness” to find possible solutions.