This past Friday at Harvard Law School, Newark mayor Cory A. Booker told a packed crowd that Americans had grown complacent in the fight against racial injustice.
Booker challenged Americans to overcome their alternating states of “sedentary agitation” and “toxic resignation” in order to create change.
“We can grow drunk on the wine from other people’s struggle. We can grow dumb, fat and happy, consuming all that was put before us by our ancestors. Or we can get engaged in the work,” Booker said.
The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice organized Friday’s speech.
During his remarks, Booker discussed his childhood and growing up in an affluent and predominantly white suburb.
“The very house I grew up in, my parents could not buy. They had to get a white couple to pose as them,” Booker said.
Booker went on to graduate from Yale Law School and became mayor of Newark, a city marked by economic woes, crime, and racial tension.
Booker said the American public is not sufficiently concerned about the problems faced in America’s inner cities.
He noted that nearly everyone in the audience knew the names of JonBenet Ramsey and Natalee Holloway, people of privilege who had been murdered, but not the names of murder victims in Newark.
“We are the biggest obstacles we have to transforming this nation. Period,” he said.
However, Booker’s speech was not without optimism. He told the audience about Fathers NOW, a program he founded to help teach men to be better fathers. He said the program has deterred many ex-convicts from returning to prison.
“When we come together, there is nothing we can’t achieve,” Booker said, before recounting the story of a man who pushed drug dealers out of his neighborhood by cleaning up an empty lot used to sell drugs.
Audience response to Booker’s speech was overwhelmingly positive.
“I thought he was really inspirational,” said Erica E. Harrison, a joint-degree student at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School.
Another law student, Chequan A. Lewis, commented on the significance of Booker’s appearance at the Law School.
“The thing that’s most exciting about Cory Booker is that he personifies the notion that you can come from a highfalutin background and have a ton of degrees but at the end of the day, what you do underground that impacts people is what really counts.”