Cory Booker is the junior United States senator from New Jersey. He was born in Washington, D.C., and his parents, who both worked for IBM, later relocated the family to Harrington Park, New Jersey. A star high school athlete, Booker received a football scholarship to Stanford University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He then attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar before earning his law degree from Yale University. Booker won a special election to fill the term of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg to become New Jersey’s first African American senator and only the twenty-first person in American history to ascend directly from mayor to senator. Booker lives in Newark’s Central Ward. His book, United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good, gives an account of his own political education that have shaped his particular civic vision for America.
Question: How did your sense of race develop?
Cory Booker: Well, I think the very beginning is important. My parents, ah, I was actually born, I lived the first 60 days of my life, not in New Jersey, but in Washington D.C, having had two parents that met in Washington D.C just came out historically black colleges. They were the first people sort of hired in many ways as African American in their positions. My father was the first black hired by an oil company, first black sort of in a department store as a buyer. My mom was one of the first African Americans in the wave of first blacks who joined IBM. So, suddenly we were making money that was unheard of, it was the Urban League that helped to open the doors, and for my parent it was sort of culmination of the long life from the teenage years to their 20s of being activists and being about mixed-race movement. So, when it came time, they moved to New Jersey, they participated in sting operation, so to speak with the Fair Housing Council, that was trying to test all these neighborhoods in New Jersey, that wouldn't show homes to black families. So, they basically after being told - my parents been told house is already sold, they went back with the white couple, it wasn’t sold and the day of the closing, my fathers shows up and really amazing story with the real estate agent, finding that he was caught, got up and took a swing at the lawyer and took a dog on my dad, but long story short is, the court case later, my brother, I and my parents, with my father of course grew up as four raisins in a tub of vanilla ice cream. So, my parents raised my brother and I having this long history leading up to in all the 70s when I was growing up, said to my brother and I that we are part of a historical struggle in this country. There wasn’t a black struggle or white struggle but more importantly it was a struggle for a justice, it was struggle for an ideal - that was an American ideal that my parents thought was not achieved yet, that this country was unfinished in terms of its quest to achieve its highest values and that the history of the nation, was the history of a ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make real on the promise of America. So, I got very saturated my mind this consciousness from early age that we had to be a a part of this struggle and to be very aware of racial differences, not because of more shallow means, but more the depth of what it represented in terms of the unfinished business of America. So, my parents never let me forget the privilege that my brother and I were enjoying, that we drank deeply from wells that we did not dig and as beneficiaries of that, we had obligations to make them most of the privilege community which we are in, such that we can make a change. So, to the point of your question, it is always a challenges as a young person being different than all those around you and kids have away of honing in on differences, no matter what the difference is, tall, slender, obese no matter what it is, but often it becomes a subject of controversy or conversation or teasing, but, all in all, I grew up in a community with a lot of very passionate people who were people of love in a good neighborhood, but there are differently issues I had to deal with this as growing up.
Question: When did you know what you wanted to do?
Cory Booker: Yeah, service was such a big issue in my family and my parent emphasize it so much. A lot of my earliest dreams were to do jobs that were of service and I also grew up with hearing these stories of the civil rights movement and struggle that I wanted to be a part of that history and I knew even I could not. I wanted to find what the cause was that I could join, so I think that I never had a clear idea that was what I wanted to do, but I knew I want to be a part, as my parents will always say of this struggle.