“I’m an American. That comes with an obligation. People are fighting to become citizens of the United States of America, willing to do whatever it takes, but we’re taking for granted what that legacy means.”
So says Cory A. Booker, the 38-year old Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. The city is perhaps most famous for the 1967 race riots, when Life Magazine featured a dead child on its cover under the headline: ‘Shooting War in the Streets: Newark, The Predictable Insurrection‘ and many believe Newark has never recovered from this image. Today the murder rate in Newark is twice that of the Bronx, almost a third of its residents live below the poverty line, and only 40% of the city’s youth graduate from high school. But Cory Booker is not deterred by the dismal statistics, despite being repeatedly told by the most sincere, well-intentioned people that the problems are unsolvable. Instead of joining the chorus of doubters, he is seeking out ways to end the madness.
Booker, who is convinced we are suffering “a spiritual crisis of people not believing in the greatness of who we are,” has made changes in every department of city government since taking office. A year later, Newark has seen a decrease of 70 percent in murders because he and a group of very committed grassroots activists and police decided they were going to choose a different way. He borrows the words of Martin Luther King to make his point: “It’s not the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the evil people that threaten us as a nation, it’s the appalling silence and inaction of the good people.”
Bill Moyers, who has been following Booker’s career, recently interviewed the young Mayor. The video is inspiring and hopeful, and certainly worth watching. You can find it here, on Bill Moyers Journal.
In the end, Booker insists that the onus is on us as individuals. “I say simply this: don’t look at government to do it, don’t look at somebody else, look in the mirror and ask yourself, I benefit from this nation. I benefit from incredible sacrifices. What am I willing to do different this year to make a difference in the problems in America?”
It is a question I have been asking myself for some time now. How to I contribute? What can I do to make a difference. Can I donate a year of my life to service work? Or maybe even one day per month. Whatever means I finally choose, I have no doubt that Mayor Booker is on the right track. It’s up to us.