W ILKES-BARRE – For every few inspirational intonations like children are never good at listening to their elders, but never fail to follow their example, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker lightened the mood at the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center on Sunday night with a quip. When it comes to talking about his college football career, for example, Booker noted, The older I get, the better I was.
Booker has built a reputation as an innovator and game changer, having overseen a reduction in crime and a surge in business investment, despite the recession and tepid recovery. He spoke as part of Wilkes University's Max Rosenn Lecture series on Law and Humanities, and he started by praising what he had learned of the late jurist for whom the series was named, calling him a quiet force for change.
My grandfather, on the other hand, was a loud force, Booker said, recalling how at his graduation his grandfather quipped about the various Latinate honors like magna cum laude and summa cum laude: You were ‘Thank you laude, I'm out of here.'
While he has been a supporter of President Barack Obama's reelection bid, his speech steered clear of national politics and focused on his personal life and a philosophy he boiled down to transforming the world by transforming your perceptions.
Change is done through persistent, small acts of kindness, decency and love, Booker said, recounting his dealings with the president of a tenant association for an apartment building he lived in shortly after college. The association conspired on how to keep a family in an apartment, how to take on a slumlord, Booker said. They turned a dank basement into a cheery spot for children's holiday parties.
The world you see outside is a reflection of the world you see inside yourself, Booker told the crowd. Who you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you say.
When he received a call about his grandfather's death while driving to an election event in 2002, Booker said he pulled over and cried on my dashboard, then remembered his grandfather's last words, wracked with cancer and developing senility.
He said ‘I love you. And I love your children and your grandchildren,' Booker said. I'm not married. I have no grandchildren. But the memory brought back the type of man his grandfather was. Told he was less, he was more. Told to take a back seat, he jumped in front to drive. You change things, Booker said, by not giving up.
Such motivational stories never went on too long before another quip. Booker said he would tell people his parents had been poor and his father would snap I wasn't poor, I was po. I couldn't afford the other two letters.
Booker repeatedly stressed the importance of remembering the hard work others – often people you never met and don't know – did to make your life better. When he proved successful in high school and was elected class president, he said his father knocked him down a notch. Don't you dare walk around like you hit a triple. You were born on third base.
You are the physical manifestation of a conspiracy of love, Booker told the crowd. You drink deeply from wells of freedom and of opportunity you did not dig.
We're all in this together. As the old African proverb says: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.