Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey played to his family’s North Carolina ties on Saturday as he urged the state chapter of the NAACP to have faith that racial injustices can be overcome.
Booker, whose father was born in Hendersonville and graduated from N.C. Central University, was the keynote speaker at the organization’s annual convention. He spoke energetically for an hour without a script, telling his life story through a series of anecdotes with a backdrop of the struggle for civil rights.
He was enthusiastically received by the luncheon crowd of several hundred at the Raleigh Convention Center.
The Democratic senator’s public appearances have taken on elevated interest recently with speculation that he could be a candidate for president. Booker didn’t tip his hand, focusing on the inequities that still hold people back and calling for a patriotism of diversity.
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“If this country has not broken your heart you don’t love her enough,” Booker said, after reciting racial inequities in criminal justice, the environment and economics, along with the nation’s history of “the terrorism of white supremacy.”
If this country has not broken your heart you don’t love her enough.
Sen. Cory Booker
He exhorted the audience not to give up just because of an election loss.
“I’ve given an entire speech and I haven’t mentioned the name of the president of the United States,” he said. “You know why? Because it’s not about him. It’s about us. We’ve got all the power we need if we focus on hope, faith and love. Don’t be one of those people who call our president nasty names. I’m serious. How can you think that you are going to beat darkness by spewing darkness?”
President Donald Trump was in Greensboro during Saturday’s convention, raising campaign money at a private home.
Booker said the Declaration of Independence calls on Americans to work on common goals, but that doesn’t mean everyone is supposed to believe the same way.
“When I hear a politician talk about patriotism I fold my arms and I listen because I think they’re going to start talking about patriotism in a way that puts others down and lifts them up: ‘Oh, you’re not patriotic, you don’t have a flag pin on. You must not love this country.’ ‘You’re not being patriotic; you’re taking a knee when others are standing,’ ” he said. “Patriotism means love of country and you cannot love your country if you don’t love your country’s men and women.”
While the audience was at lunch in advance of Booker’s remarks, the senator hardly sat still, bounding around the room posing for selfies, shaking hands and complimenting the jazz combo that was present.
Earlier in the day, the Rev. William Barber II gave his final speech as president of the state chapter of the NAACP. He is stepping down after serving 12 years — the second half of which has been a particularly tumultuous span in North Carolina politics.
When he began his tenure, Barber said, Democratic legislators were often slow to respond to calls for civil rights reforms when they were in charge. Tensions ignited when Republicans took over the General Assembly, leading to mass protests organized by Barber and arrests.
“We weren’t doing it to get on TV,” Barber told the audience. “We were doing it to challenge wrong.”
We weren’t doing it to get on TV. We were doing it to challenge wrong.
Rev. William Barber II
Barber is joining a national poverty initiative, which he said has already taken him across the country to meet with a diverse range of people, from Alaska to inner cities.
“They are sick and tired of being sick and tired and they’re ready to stand up across the country,” he said.
Barber finished his address with a pyrotechnical medley of exhortation, song and shouting, backed up by the combo and followed by a long standing ovation.