As a New Jersey native and a Cory Booker follower on Twitter, I went to the Black Community Services Center this afternoon to hear Cory Booker’s, inspiring, funny and insightful speech. He is the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, a Stanford alum and one of TIME’s most influential people of 2011. Like many twenty-somethings, myself included, as a student, Mayor Booker did not have a clue about what he wanted to do. Being at a school with so many opportunities and dealing with the day-to-day grind, we sometimes forget about what lies outside The Stanford Bubble. For Mayor Booker, his “best professors were in the streets in the city of Newark,” not in the classroom, though he had many great Stanford professors. On campus, he “got tired of talking, talking, talking,” and began to look outside the bubble to do service, and engaged in the East Palo Alto community.
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Though now the mayor of the largest city in New Jersey, if you had told Mayor Booker that would be his future, he wouldn’t have believed you. He followed his passions, nothing else. He said, “Life is more about passions and purpose than about positions.” So take that passion and apply it inside and outside the classroom.
Mayor Booker described Newark as a tale of two cities. Poverty rates are up, but buildings and businesses have sprung up. He’s “trying not to let the city gentrify in a negative way.” He has more than doubled production of affordable housing and has made great strides in education reform. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave $100 million in donations to the Newark educational system, but much work still needs to be done.
Despite the business and building booms in Newark, a majority of the workforce won’t be qualified to hold jobs in the economy. A lagging education system is detrimental to those children, their families, the city, and a nation as a whole. And the cycle of poverty will keep spinning if the lagging education system isn’t fixed.
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He said many people are stuck in a “sedentary agitation.” They’re sitting on their couches getting upset at the news. They’re getting upset about the world but not doing anything about it. They think somebody should do something, but they’re not looking within. Mayor Booker told us he looks to “find ways to join together with people in a cause greater than myself.” Don’t be a couch potato and watch life pass you by.
What’s one way college students can help? Mentor a student.
He told college students, alums and other guests that mentoring a student for four hours a month reduces at-risk behavior among youth. He said that would be the equivalent of watching your favorite Jersey-centric reality television show, e.g. The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Jersey Shore, or Jerseylicious. And let’s be honest, it’s like that extra, extra piece of chocolate cake. You’d enjoy it in the moment, but it doesn’t really add any nutritional value to your life.
So, dear reader, do something! And don’t let adversity get in the way of your dreams. Mayor Booker reflected on his career, and his first year as a city councilman was the toughest for him as a professional. But, he added, “the times when you’re most frustrated…most discouraged…are the greatest moments of your life.” And frustration is the precondition one must breakthrough to get there.
Don’t know where to start? Type in your closest city or location at Idealist.org and check out all the different volunteer, internship and job opportunities available. This weekend, dream big, give back, spread good.