Newark’s mayor delivers Assembly Series talk on significance of community service

Booker explains "How to change the world with your bare hands"

Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker believes passionately that building strong communities takes individual effort and commitment, and he will explore that topic in detail for the Ervin Scholars 20th anniversary celebration at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, in the Laboratory Sciences Building auditorium. The talk, co-sponsored by the Assembly Series and the Campus Week of Dialogue, is free and open to the public.

“How to change the world with your bare hands: A commitment to community” is the title of his talk and a motto Booker lives by. Inspired by his parents at an early age, he has dedicated his life to achieving social justice through individual action.

Less than two years ago, Booker was elected mayor of Newark, running largely on his record as a City Councilman, with 72 percent of the vote. “The Savior of Newark,” as Time magazine called him, highlighted Booker’s philosophy of personal commitment and responsibility for those in need. He became known for his unorthodox activism: In 2000, he parked his motor home in some of the worst drug-infested areas in Newark to bring attention to the problems of inner city residents. A hunger strike in 1999 helped increase police presence and improved security for a neighborhood in need.

The 2006 mayoral victory was Booker’s second bid for the office; he ran unsuccessfully in 2002. The first race became so contentious — pitting a young African-American Democrat against the incumbent African-American Democrat — that a documentary recounting the gritty drama, called “Street Fight,” won an Oscar nomination for its riveting narrative and insight into American politics.

Booker received a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in sociology from Stanford University, in 1991 and 1992, respectively. As a Rhodes Scholar, he completed an honors degree in modern history from The Queen’s College, Oxford University in 1994. In 1997, he earned a J.D. from Yale University Law School.

At Stanford, Booker spent his senior year not only on the varsity football team and as class president, he also ran a local crisis hotline and organized programs for marginalized youth. While at Oxford, he ran a mentoring program for low-income youth. At Yale, he ran clinics to support the legal needs of low-income citizens, and became a Big Brother.

After his stint as Councilman, Booker founded and directed Newark Now, a grassroots non-profit organization, and became a partner in a West Orange, NJ law firm. During this time he also served as a senior fellow at Rutgers University.

“Mayor Booker is a wonderful example of a person with exceptional talent and training who chose the path of public service to meet the challenges of today’s urban communities,” noted James E. McLeod, vice chancellor for students, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and director of the Ervin Scholars Program. “He exemplifies the same qualities of intelligence, courage, and caring that we look for in an Ervin Scholar.”

The Washington University Ervin Scholars Program was established in 1987 to help create a more diverse community on campus. Ervin Scholars are selected on the basis of academic achievement, leadership in their high school or community, commitment to community service, and commitment to bringing diverse people together. The program is named after John B. Ervin, a nationally renowned black educator, scholar, and author.

In 1968, Ervin joined Washington University as dean of the School of Continuing Education, becoming the first African American to hold a dean’s position here. A beloved member of the University community, he was deeply respected for his honesty and integrity. He is best remembered for his commitment to excellence, his engagement with the community, and his efforts to bring diverse people together to heal divisions among them. Ervin died in 1992.

The Laboratory Sciences building is located on the north side of the Danforth Campus, between the Knight Center and the Women’s Building. For more information, call (314) 935-4620 or visit the Assembly Series Web page (