Cory Booker: NJ's Own Renaissance Man
May 29, 2012 05:50PM
By Susan Bloom
Try to catch up with Newark, NJ, mayor Cory Booker on any given day and you’ll find yourself struggling to keep a fast-paced schedule of executive meetings, press conferences, and ribbon cuttings interspersed with interviews and appearances on such high-profile news programs as Meet the Press. Since his 2006 inauguration, Booker has drawn local and national media attention for the major investment he’s attracting, the jobs he’s creating, and the sense of renewal and hope he’s bringing to an inner city struggling to find its way and prosper. In the process, the determined high-achiever has never shied away from a good fight, taking on crime in his city, making important strides for education, promoting environmental conservation, and building bridges throughout global communities based on a sincere openness to all cultures and faiths. As a result, this Rhodes Scholar, Yale Law School graduate, and national hero who recently made headlines for rescuing his next-door neighbor from a burning building, has been identified as not only a future contender for New Jersey’s governor’s but also a likely presidential candidate who will continue to break political, economic and social barriers in the name of enhancing the vitality and welfare of all he touches.
Yet there’s much more to Cory Booker than meets the eye. Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Bergen County, the warm and approachable 43-year-old manages to achieve balance in the face of a demanding and relentless work schedule—from more light-hearted guest appearances on such popular TV shows as Finding Your Roots and Restaurant Impossible to the recent concert of favorite rocker Bruce Springsteen that he attended in New York City. In between a hectic schedule of press conferences and other scheduled appointments, Booker graciously took the time to tell Natural Awakenings a bit about his spirituality, creative pursuits, exercise regimen, approach to a healthy lifestyle and otherwise “lighter side.”
NA: You always exude such a sense of optimism. To what do you attribute your high energy and positive outlook?
Booker: Thank you for saying that. My parents raised me to feel a sense of gratitude about life. I grew up drinking from the wells of freedom and liberty and feel very blessed and grateful to be here.
NA: You studied with famous rabbis while at Oxford and Yale. What led you to seek their spiritual guidance, and what did you learn from them?
Booker: A chance encounter with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach at Oxford led us to exchange books from each other’s collections. His friendship has been a gift and has deepened my curiosity about other faiths as well.
NA: In a job as busy and high-profile as yours, how do you find the time to exercise? What is your fitness regimen, and what are your favorite forms of exercise?
Booker: As you can imagine, fitting in time for exercise isn’t always easy. With a travel and appearance schedule as hectic as mine, where sometimes I’m up until 4am and sometimes I have to get up at 4am to go somewhere, I don’t necessarily have a set routine. However, I feel much greater vitality when I do exercise; otherwise, I feel susceptible to a lack of energy and joy. As for my favorite activities, I love to jog, lift weights, ride my stationary bike and play basketball.
NA: How do you keep stress at bay?
Booker: I used to think that working late hours made me more productive, but then I realized it actually made me less productive. I think a key to reducing stress is by minding proper sleep, exercise and diet.
NA: As popular as you are, everyone in public office has to deal with constituents who don’t like or agree with them. How do you manage dissonance so that it doesn’t derail you psychologically?
Booker: I’ve always understood that whether it’s criticism or compliments, you can’t let either of those forces sway you. Being controlled by the ups or downs in life is not a good way to live. You have to be grounded in who you are, centered at your source and elevated from within.
NA: Tell us about your choice to be a vegetarian.
Booker: A preponderance of the evidence made me want to experiment with this lifestyle choice. I tried it while I was in college, and I found that my overall performance as an athlete [Booker played football for Stanford University] improved as a result, so I made it a permanent practice.
NA: Tell us about your approach to the environment.
Booker: Here in Newark, I’ve found that if we focus on greening our city, it accomplishes many goals, from saving money to creating jobs to helping the environment. As a result, we’re greening everything from housing developments to healthcare and more.
NA: While you’re an astute businessman, lawyer, and leader, you’ve also been very supportive of the arts. What role do you see the arts playing in Newark?
Booker: Newark is rapidly changing and we’re currently experiencing our biggest surge of economic development in 50 years; major corporations are moving into this city, and housing developments are going up everywhere. But while there are so many signs of civic progress in motion around us, I truly believe that you can’t build a city unless it’s fueled and inspired by the arts. I’m a chief witness to the marvels of this city and to helping to return Newark full circle to its founding, the very core of which is the arts. They give people hope and help us reach higher heights.
NA: What are the most important messages about healthy living that you wish to convey to kids today?
Booker: Paraphrasing the words of poet Langston Hughes, it’s easier to build great kids than fix broken men. If we encourage positive patterns early on, they’ll be more easily sustained later on and can give kids the foundation on which to build a healthy and vibrant life.
NA: Anything you’d like to share about yourself that people might not know?
Booker: (Laughs) I love poetry! Poetry is something that was part of the earliest days of my childhood; I remember loving Dr. Seuss books and others as a kid. I integrate a lot of phrases from great poems into speeches I give and I also try to write poetry regularly, at least one or two poems a week. It’s very cathartic for me. I’ll often tweet lines from them or put them on my Facebook page. Hopefully, I’m getting better over time!
Freelancer Susan Bloom writes weekly Health and Food features for New Jersey’s Asbury Park Press and specializes in topics related to nutrition, fitness and healthy lifestyles.
I Will Not Lie Down
An original poem by Cory Booker
I will not lie down and I’ll never say die
Fallen to the ground — I still believe I can fly
Curse me and you just make me strong
Say I can’t and I will prove you wrong
Set your traps and unleash your fire
I won’t falter; I’ll find a way to fly even higher
In the end you may think I missed my goal. . .
But you will have it wrong; this is the secret to my soul:
Success isn’t about attaining some prize, medal, or pin
It’s not about what’s outside, but about being faithful to what’s in
Don’t judge one by their difficulties or how many times they fall
See instead did they have the courage to stand when the world said crawl
See if they held to hope when others turned to despair
See if they gave love when no one else seemed to care
See if they met every darkness with their unflinching light
See if they stood their ground when others surrendered the fight
Whether one lives long or is called home in their youth
Our true obligation is every day to courageously tell our truth
To play small, and deny the world your true spirit is perhaps the greatest sin
So today, right now, YOU BE YOU, and you will always win.
An original poem by Cory Booker
Sometimes the greatest strength is just putting your feet on the ground and telling the world “I'm still here!”
And sometime the greatest courage is in just walking out the door in spite of all your fear
Sometimes the greatest love is just you forgiving you
And sometimes the greatest loyalty is to yourself staying true
Sometimes the best fight is the one from which you walked away
And sometimes your best relationship is the one that despite it all, you just decided to stay
Sometimes the best prayers don’t involve a single word
And sometimes the best leaders of all are the ones who are seen but never heard
Sometimes the biggest thing you can do is a small act of grace
And sometimes telling someone the truth without love is a cruel disgrace
Sometimes smiling is the greatest act of defiance
And sometimes asking for help is the most meaningful example of self-reliance
Sometimes the best medicine is to just laugh until you cry
And sometimes the greatest wisdom comes from accepting you will just never know why
Sometimes just going to bed is the best antidote to trials and tribulations
And sometimes just being blessed to get up again and face it all, for one more day, is worthy of celebration.