From Stanford, Oxford and Yale to the crime riddled streets of Newark
When Cory Booker was a small boy his parents bought a house.
Their main criteria for the purchase was that the home be in an area that contained good public schools, which saw the couple - two of the first African American executives of multinational IT company IBM - looking at properties in predominantly white neighbourhoods.
As Booker tells the story, his parents and their single-office black lawyer, set up a ‘sting’ by sending a white couple into the inspection in order to secure the purchase - a maneuver, which once revealed - saw the Booker’s lawyer physically assaulted by the realtor, and Booker’s father set on by a dog. But the house was secured, and with it the Booker boys’ futures - two young black Americans in a good, mostly-white public school.
This story goes a long way to explain the personal and political journey of the New Jersey Senator now seeking the Democratic nomination for President in 2020. In fact, Cory Booker’s political platform is founded on the value of a good education - not just because of the opportunities it offers, but the roads it paves in its ability to affect change.
Booker has been described as a man of anomalies created, and perhaps driven by, his access to a good education. As a straight ‘A’ graduate from a mostly-white New Jersey high school, he became the Stanford University football recruit who was also senior class president. As the Stanford athlete who achieved a Bachelor of Arts in political science in 1991 and a Masters in sociology the year after, he ran a student-run crisis line in what was left of his spare time.
From Stanford, and after being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, Booker crossed the globe to Oxford University. It was here that he played varsity basketball, earned an honors degree in US History, and was appointed president of a Jewish Society for Oxford students despite the fact that as a proud Baptist, he did not practice Judaism himself.
Two years later, Booker was studying Law a Yale, where he volunteered as a big brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America organization, was a member of the Black Law Students Association, and helped to operate a free legal clinic for low-income area residents. But perhaps even this does not paint the true nature of Booker’s dichotomy as a highly educated student and a misfit on the playground - because in his second year at Yale he moved back to Newark and into a run-down housing project building where his neighbours were jobless minorities and gang members dealing in drugs.
It was here, in the complex known as Brick Towers that Booker stayed - for another ten years. And it was here, where the local residents who once referred to him as ‘this Ivy Leaguer coming from the suburbs, who must be just passing through’, that Booker eventually won his seat of Mayor of Newark and Senator for New Jersey beyond.
Which brings us back to Booker’s education and his uniquely individual use of it.
On one hand pundits argue Booker’s urban grassroots approach to politics sits ill at ease with his Stanford style social media presence - his followers on twitter (4.2 million) and instagram (611K) making him one of the most ‘social’ politicians in America. While his neighbourhood pursuits (which have included rescuing neighbours from a burning building and shovelling snow from Newark drives), have earned him the moniker of ‘Super Mayor’, his ‘heroism-cum-modesty’ persona has been mocked by others as political posturing.
Then there is the power of Booker’s educational/ Ivy League connections - and specifically his connections with Harvard grad and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg which saw Zuckerberg donate $US100 million towards Newark education in 2010. In the five years that followed Booker received criticism for being unable to convert that $US100 million into results - but now, in 2019, there is evidence that the poorest students in Newark are making progress way above the national average - a Stanford study finding that Newark’s charter schools were producing academic gains second only to those reached in Boston.
In many ways, Cory Booker’s education and his endless and perhaps unusual use of it has defined him beyond the other Democratic candidates who have ‘thrown their hat into the ring’ for the 2020 battle against President Trump. Perhaps this is his distinguishing feature - the fact that he is running, not just as an advocate for the middle class which could be seen as the classic Democratic message, but as a crusader for the underclass whose voices have been bypassed by economic progress. He can talk with some authority about Americans left behind, because he lives among Americans like that. He did rescue a neighbour from a burning building (suffering second degree burns to his hands), he did rescue a dog in sub-zero temperatures after reading a tweet from a worried citizen, and he did have residents of the city tweet him the locations of bad snow pileups, before travelling to said locations to shovel the sidewalks himself.
As for Booker’s own take on the value of education, once again he sees its benefits as way ‘beyond’ what is gained by the individual. While on an interpersonal note he expresses that every parent should be able to give their child: ‘the kind of education that allows them to dream even bigger, go even farther and accomplish even more than you could ever imagine’, he also notes the greater benefits of such educations, professing that if America can eradicate the ‘quality of education based on zip code travesty’, then America’s ‘economic development will explode’.
It was Booker who once again used both sides of his ‘humble beginnings v Stanford/Oxford/Ivy educated’ persona, to launch the Democrat for Education Reform that backs charter schools and underpaid teachers by calling on donations from his Wall Street friends. It is Booker who, in 2016, used his political connections to push the Every Child Succeeds Act (an Act that calls for an increase in education access for homeless and foster children) through the Senate.
But perhaps it is Steven Phillips, long time educational reformist and San Francisco-based attorney, who describes Booker’s use of education best when he asserts: ‘While he (Booker) moves comfortably in circles of high tech tycoons, he has used those relationships to bring $400 million to help improve the education of 38,000 mainly low-income children of color in Newark.’
In other words, as Booker himself attests, his advantages in education have enabled him to fight for the education of others.
Last year, Booker was invited to speak on another Ivy League campus - that of Princeton in his home state of New Jersey. And his message to the graduates of the Princeton Class of 2018, as graduates of the recently ranked ‘best university in America’, was that their education made them powerful, but not just in the way that they thought. While Booker noted the power of their education, degrees and resumes, he explained that true force lies in and how they use such power, that:
“If you let this world feel you every day, walk into every room, go to every place and embrace the world with your spirit and your power and your truth, then generations unborn will know of your light.”
Stanford University Early And Regular Decision Admissions
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Claudia F., Crimson Student and Stanford Class of 2022
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Yale University Early and Regular Decision Admissions
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Akio H., Crimson Student and Yale Class of 2023
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Princeton University Early and Regular Decision Admissions
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Seyoon R., Crimson Student and Princeton Class of 2021
“I had a naïve childhood dream of studying at Princeton, but I never thought it would be possible. But Crimson built a support team around me that helped me every step of the way. They are so well networked so wherever you want to apply, someone has successfully applied there or is an alumnus, so they can share their story, take you through the process, help you to be yourself when you’re writing essays, and navigate the complex A to Z of the applications. My consultant, Dylan, was an incredible help – and not just regarding the advice he gave for my common application. He’s at Princeton, had the same interests as me and was studying the same things I wanted to study. He made me believe Princeton was possible.”
Oxford University Overall Admissions Statistics
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Jessica C., Crimson Student and Oxford Class of 2022
“At Crimson, you have a lot of people that are focused on you and your progress and making sure you're moving along. It's that support network that helped me get into Oxford - because, at the time, there was so much going on and I know, without them, it would have been really, really hard to manage. I think by having this team of people that really look after you, that's what I found the most notable, they just to keep you on track and make sure you're doing okay."
Rhodes Scholar Statistics
The Rhodes Scholarship is the oldest (first awarded in 1902) and perhaps most prestigious international scholarship programme, enabling outstanding young people from around the world to study at the University of Oxford. Each year approximately 100 students from around the world are awarded the scholarship based on allocation per country. The global acceptance rate according to the Rhodes Trust is approximately 0.7%
Following is the Rhodes Scholarship allocation per country in 2019
Daniel D., Crimson Mentor and Rhodes Scholar 2019
“I was lucky to have studied at Oxford a few years ago and that gave me a taste of Oxford - it’s an amazing place, there is a level of intensity where at any point you can meet someone who’s engaging and knowledgeable and really changes your views. The Rhodes is an amazing privilege. I think Oxford is one of the most amazing intellectual environments in the world and I can’t wait for the experiences you have as a Rhodes Scholar - being able to sit around a table with other Rhodes Scholars and talk about their journey, to listen to amazing visiting speakers...those are things you can’t really experience elsewhere and I am incredibly humbled and excited.”
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