Newark’s Mayor Booker Whets the Appetite for Diversity at Bridges Affair



Newark Mayor Cory Booker
It seemed fitting, in more than one way, that Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, should be the featured speaker at Thursday’s 90th Anniversary Leadership in Action Luncheon” of Bridges in Memphis at the agency’s modernistic downtown facility.

At Stanford, the young African-American scholar-athlete ran something, in fact, called “The Bridge,” identified by Wikipedia as a “student-crisis hotline.” He has a brother, Cary Booker, former chancellor of Memphis' Soulsville Charter School and co-founder of the troubled Omni Prep here later on. And, somewhat more, it would seem, than his brother, Cory Booker is an over-achiever — a political star of the first order, in fact, as the overseer of a well-publicized up-by the bootstraps regime in a city that was once sorely troubled.

All of that makes him a good fit for Memphis and for Bridges, whose function would seem to be that of connecting disparate parts into a cohesive whole.

Booker is as much motivational speaker as politician, and his remarks to the Bridges audience sounded — and looked — very much like a reprise of elements in speeches he is used to giving hither and thither. Which is to say, what he had to say wasn’t really Memphis- or Bridges-specific, but his auditors seemed to be pleased with it all.

This is a man who can weave hipster words like Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness” into the same set of remarks as his father’s word “po” (as in, “I was po’. I couldn’t afford the other two letters!”) and with various other lingoes and allusions across the breadth and width of a diverse American culture.

This is a man whose experience has certainly been diverse. A Rhodes Scholar and high school all-American in football, he has ample experience, too, on the front lines of urban experience, having made his name politically by means of a prolonged hunger strike he undertook to publicize the fact of open drug traffic on the streets of Newark.

That got him elected to the city council, and, after two tries, he would end up being elected Newark’s mayor, where he could implement various plans for big-city regeneration — like constructing parklands out of junk space and organizing community responses to the aforesaid drug problem. And as a public figure he has been hands on to the point of entering a burning building to personally save a trapped woman from certain death.

So there is substance to the man — though, to be perfectly candid, his high-pitched breathy recitation of his life and times seemed at times little more than a practiced pro forma overview, and not even someone as geared to the inspirational sell as he could really make the invasion of Normandy in World War Two belong to a catalogue of cross-cultural events that he called “a conspiracy of love.”

But Booker was there to whet the appetite, and, like the light luncheon meal of sandwich wrap and gazpacho served along with plastic cocktail glasses containing French fries, he no doubt succeeded.

Emcee for the affair was Mearl Purvis of Fox-13 TV, and among the luminaries attending were Mayors A C Wharton and Mark Luttrell and Congressman Steve Cohen.

Booker was a figure of animation as the featured speaker at Thursday's luncheon.
  • JB
  • Booker was a figure of animation as the featured speaker at Thursday's luncheon.

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