My world changed on November 4, 2008 -- but not for the reason you may think. I sat alongside my mother in our living room, watching television coverage of Obama's historic presidential victory. I ate homemade cookie dough out of the mixing bowl with a wooden spoon, as there clearly was no time to make the dash over to the kitchen to put the chocolate chip-filled, gluten-free goodness into the oven. The news channel had my undivided attention, but it wasn't only the polls, projections, electorate spreads, speeches, and victory celebrations that captivated me... no, one MSNBC commentator leaped off the screen.
A charismatic, young speaker brought fresh points to the table, adding relevant, meaningful perspectives to the conversation. Cory Booker, his name read across the bottom of the screen, Mayor of Newark. My 17-year-old Northern California-bred self had never before heard of this man, but my mom and I were hooked right away. A Google search revealed the basics about this then-first-term politician, an intriguing life story -- from Washington, D.C. to Stanford, varsity football to a student-crisis hotline, Oxford to Chabad, Yale Law School to housing complexes in New Jersey's largest city.
When it came time to write my senior year term paper a couple of months later, I knew my precise focus: the man, the city, the transformation. And let me tell you, a tremendous amount of research goes into a 36-page paper, but each source revealed fascinating stories, facts, insight.
The power of Cory Booker entered my life and quickly spread to family, friends, classmates, teachers, librarians, you name it. Goings on in the Brick City became common points of reference in my conversations. Everyone seemed to have the same response upon discovering this new breed of political force... this guy is the real deal, shaking up the system for the better -- in Newark and beyond. Look out, folks, here comes Cory... or something along those lines!
What came next? The mayor took the world by storm and began popping up everywhere -- at Little League games, Google Zeitgeist, the TIME 100 gala, even your elderly neighbor's snowy driveway. His social media following soared, due to a unique ability to connect with and respond to the public on such a genuine level, take on challenges of any size or scale, openly field critique, and motivate with words of wisdom.
I feel privileged to be among those inspired by Cory, a man I consider a model leader and public servant. He has a track record of action, a dedication to targeted follow through, and a spirit that welcomes collaboration. The mayor is confronting crime head-on; recognizing the gravity of the problem, he has made it a shared responsibility of the populace and focuses on a solution-oriented approach which has already brought murder rates down and number of guns seized by cops up. He has also quite literally activated Newark residents with his Let's Move social fitness challenge, personally encouraging and rewarding others, we well as sharing his own progress. Cory is never afraid to speak his mind and masterfully articulates complex issues. With immense heart and intelligence, he gets to the crux of marriage equality in an eloquent, albeit impromptu, five-minute civil rights address, calling for New Jersey state government to defend it as a legal right. Booker has indeed struck up an unlikely bipartisan working relation with Republic Governor Chris Christie -- now famously parodied by the two politicians in the genius video spoof.
With an ever-growing platform to affect and implement heretical and institutional change, he inspires diverse factions of the population to become involved and take meaningful action at any level. A longtime grassroots activist myself -- working to catalyze young people around building sustainable solutions for the environment, social justice, and education with Teens Turning Green and The Schoolbag, among other initiatives -- I believe passionately in the power of social communication, advocate multi sector collaborative action, and endeavor to lead by example, being the change I wish to see.
And let me tell you, few embody that philosophy more than Cory Booker. Some 1.14 million Twitter followers agree, as do Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, Rachel Maddow and Jon Bon Jovi, to name but a few of his famous fans! After physically rescuing a neighbor from her burning building, the hashtag #CoryBookerStories enhanced an already-sterling reputation and affirmed his superhero status, with brilliant comical tales, images, and memes of the six-foot-three do-gooder saving the world with ease... topping Chuck Norris (if you ask me) and even drawing comparisons to national heartthrob Ryan Gosling. Plus, Booker is a vegetarian, which makes the vegan in me smile!
Changing tires, saving babies, and having The Boss over for brunch is all in a day's work for Booker. Not only can the mayor laugh at himself, but his ability to teach through life lessons and lead a team has led to the unprecedented transformation of Newark. Security, education, jobs, housing, creating an environment that nurtures mothers, fathers, children -- setting a standard for betterment of urban America is of the utmost importance to Cory. He can cheer for his New Jersey Devils against Mike Bloomberg's Rangers, only to rise at 5:30 am, working tirelessly and optimistically to meet the people's needs. From basketball courts to community baby showers, Cory's hands-on approach has made him a familiar face amid the city landscape. The mayor is far from judgmental, fiercely dedicated to creating a new truth, writing a fresh narrative, discovering the city's destiny out of darkness.
Passion and commitment can become reality. Like Cory, I live my politics, acting upon beliefs and values in unconventional ways. An ardent citizen activist, I have witnessed the mass creativity and innovation in small collectives of engaged individuals. Each day offers a unique opportunity to positively impact the local community and greater world, so let that responsibility compel us to do good and mobilize others to join in the journey! My motto is dream and do... and I have a feeling that similar principles guide Cory Booker's whiteboard of goals.
Follow Erin Schrode on Twitter: www.twitter.com/erinschrode