At URI, Booker challenges a generation

Callings
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  November 10, 2010

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‘WHAT KIND OF COUNTRY HAVE WE BECOME?’ Booker asks.

"Gun shots rang out," said Cory Booker, Newark's charismatic mayor, during a talk at the University of Rhode Island's Edwards Hall this week.

His father, in town for a visit, froze. "And I see kids running down a hill," he said, "and I run through the kids to the screams."

Booker found a boy, blood pouring from his chest.

"I threw my hands into his chest, trying to stop blood that seemed to be coming from everywhere," he said. "This is not like a movie — glamorous violence, here. It was gruesome. Foaming blood pouring from his mouth as I tried — didn't know what to do — tried to scream, 'Call an ambulance,' stick my fingers in his mouth, hoping that he would breath again.

"It seemed like forever. I screamed his name, begging him not to die, stay with me. But the ambulance comes and shoves me out of the way and rips open his shirt and I see the gunshot wounds.

"Everything now just seemed to move in slow motion. He was dead. And I stood there . . . and looked at my father, who was horrified looking at his son."

Eventually, Booker made it home. "I go into the bathroom and I stare in the mirror and I just start trying to scrub this boy's blood off . . .

"I started crying. And I felt my heart fill up with emotions that I have no right to feel — despair and anger — and darkness just filled my soul. And I felt myself angry at a nation that feels no responsibility or remorse for what's happening every day like a drumbeat of destruction . . . Our greatest natural resource being churned up in the most disastrous ways. Why doesn't anybody care?

"Everybody coast to coast can name wealthy, affluent people who have been [killed] — JonBenet Ramsey, Natalee Holloway, any of them. But can anybody, even in this audience, name one black boy that got killed in an inner city in America?

"What kind of country have we become when we have such capacity, such potential, such greatness, such divinity, such a calling, but we have failed to solve the problems that are threatening our very destiny?

"How can my father, who is a man of hope and optimism, courage, who is a man of change, stand with me and say, 'I worry, son, that we live in an America now that a kid born into my same exact circumstances — black, poor, to a single mother, in a segregated environment — has less life chances of success than I did growing up in 1936?' . . .

"What is happening to our country? . . .

"Don't tell me we can't solve our problems. I'll take you to Newark right now. Pick your problem. There are innovations in my city going on . . . We don't need to go to Newark. I can show you any city in America and show you innovative, committed Americans who are finding ways to solve problems . . . Pick your demographic of child and I'll show you schools that are educating kids in that demographic. Pick a challenge . . .

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