Skip to main content

Sen. Cory Booker: Finishing our nation's unfinished business

By Sen. Cory Booker
updated 9:33 AM EST, Sun February 23, 2014
Cory Booker talks to supporters at a victory party in Newark, New Jersey, after winning a special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the late Frank Lautenberg. Booker, the two-term Democratic mayor of Newark, was <a href='http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/10/31/bookers-big-day-in-washington/'>sworn into the Senate</a> on Thursday, October 31, and he will serve out the final 14 and a half months of Lautenberg's term. Cory Booker talks to supporters at a victory party in Newark, New Jersey, after winning a special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the late Frank Lautenberg. Booker, the two-term Democratic mayor of Newark, was sworn into the Senate on Thursday, October 31, and he will serve out the final 14 and a half months of Lautenberg's term.
HIDE CAPTION
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
Cory Booker, mayor to senator
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sen. Cory Booker says racial disparities and poverty are among America's unfinished business
  • Booker: We remain a country falling short of its highest ideals
  • Booker: A failed criminal justice system has become our greatest civil rights challenge

Editor's note: CNN invited the two African Americans in the U.S. Senate -- Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina -- to write companion pieces in conjunction with Black History Month. Sen. Booker is the former mayor of Newark and has been in the Senate since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter @CoryBooker

(CNN) -- The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words, written in April 1963 from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, ring as true today as they did then:

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

This is a profound part of the testimony of black history in America. What King knew was that the fullest potential of our nation will never be achieved until all Americans have the ability to access the freedom, justice and equality that we so proudly proclaim.

Sen. Cory Booker
Sen. Cory Booker

I am keenly aware that it was the courage of countless Americans confronting the bigotry, disadvantage and institutional biases of the past that blazed a trail allowing my family to thrive. My ancestors worked hard and sacrificed for their success, yet, but for the collective struggle of those dedicated to a more just and inclusive America, they would not have succeeded.

Sen. Tim Scott: I have lived the power of the American Dream

This generation can never fully repay those who struggled to build a better America -- the names and faces at the center of Black History Month who changed the course of our collective American history. But we can honor them by paying it forward, by working to create tides that lift more boats.

Because we remain a country falling short of its highest ideals. There is work to do. We can all do better, achieve more as a nation, if we dedicate ourselves to continuing to address our persistently painful inequality of opportunity and justice.

For example, in health care and education we have made much progress, but racial disparities and cyclical poverty highlight our nation's unfinished business. And it's a reality that hurts all Americans.

Black patients overall receive a lower quality of care than white patients. African-Americans are far more likely than white Americans to use hospitals or clinics as their primary source of care, and about 20% of African-Americans lack any consistent source of health care.

Meanwhile, only 54% of African-Americans graduate from high school, compared with more than three quarters of white and Asian students.

Obama: ACA delay not meant to 'punish'
Biden on health care: 'Hell of a start'
Minimum wage, maximum fight

So what do we do to fix this?

The Affordable Care Act is clearly an important step in providing affordable, quality health care for all Americans -- a step that prioritizes lifesaving preventive care.

We need to make smarter investments in our schools, and that includes investing where it can make the most difference -- by providing every child with access to a high-quality pre-k program.

Closing the classroom achievement gap also means acknowledging that education starts in the home.

Providing for better health and better education is a powerful way to break the momentum of poverty, allowing people to reach their potential.

And if we want to do more, we have to strengthen families.

That, of course, means advancing initiatives such as paid family leave, so parents don't have to choose between taking care of a sick child or parent and keeping their job. It also means doing more to help first-time, at-risk moms through proven programs that provide them and their children with home nurse care.

But we also must acknowledge that one of the most important determinants of social mobility and achievement is whether or not a child comes from a two-parent household. Clearly, we need to be doing more to support single parents, but there are also strategies to encourage parents to stay to together.

Reforming America's broken criminal justice system is near the top of the list.

As the former mayor of Newark, I witnessed countless families torn apart when one parent went to jail for a nonviolent drug offense. That incarceration kicked off a chain reaction of events that impacted not only the person incarcerated, but their entire family: divorce, long-term joblessness and poverty.

Our failed criminal justice system has become our country's greatest civil rights and civil liberties challenge. The U.S. incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any other nation in the world, and the corrections system costs taxpayers about $70 billion a year.

And again, we see the black community suffering more than other groups: African-American offenders on average receive sentences 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes, and they are 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison. More than 60% of the prison population is comprised of racial and ethnic minorities.

We need to think creatively about how to fix problems, not just lock people up and look the other way, hoping for a different outcome. We need to think differently about why we punish, how we punish and for how long we punish. We need to think about how to keep families together, make communities safer and save taxpayer dollars.

When faced with this array of problems, it is easy to despair. But I am filled with hope, and, particularly during Black History Month, draw inspiration from those who tackled and overcame the challenges of the past.

Yes, challenges still exist, even as we celebrate how far we've come. The question now is, how will we meet them?

The answer to that question will ultimately define this generation's legacy. Let's rise to this challenge. The future success of our nation depends upon us resolving to carry on the struggle that has brought us this far.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sen. Cory Booker.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT