Senator Cory Booker included Buxton, Iowa—the integrated coal mining town of 5,000 where, in 1900, blacks and whites were treated equal—in his talks this past weekend. In his keynote speech at Friday’s Iowa Democratic Party Fall Gala, he mentioned the black and white women of Buxton who’d quilted together. “Those women knew what we must know now,” he said. “That the lines that divide us are nowhere near as strong as the ties that bind us.”
As one who has written about Buxton and continues to be amazed by the town, excitement coursed through me. Whenever I hear someone as awestruck or appreciative as I am about what Buxton was, I get excited.
But it was more than the Senator’s words about Buxton’s inclusion that excited me. It was his actions, his embodiment of that inclusion. He has a natural ability to make everyone feel included and equally important.
I saw this up close and personal on Saturday morning.
Senator Booker found time in his packed schedule to stop by Creative Visions, a nonprofit founded by Representative Ako Abdul-Samad that includes programs “to help stabilize the family units and empower communities.” There were 30 or so attendees—a small group that other politicians of Booker’s stature might have deemed unworthy of an hour. But Booker let us know we were equally as important as the 1,000+ people he’d spoken to at the Gala the night before. It reminded me of renowned Booker T. Washington visiting tiny (by comparison to other towns) Buxton. And, just as those attendees must’ve felt, I felt included and inspired.
This mood of inclusion and equality continued as he answered questions. When one woman asked how she could use her white privilege, Booker didn’t single her out and shine a spotlight on her privilege. Instead, he said that everyone in the room had privilege, that everyone possessed something that others didn’t have. He used himself as an example. “I’m a man,” he said. “I’ve never had to worry about my safety—male privilege.” A privilege that I feel he used to support Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. By including everyone in that answer, he inspired us all to acknowledge and use our privilege.
When a man asked how he, not having the reach of someone like Booker, could use leadership to make a difference, Booker again included us all in the answer. He stressed that it wasn’t the big names that had made the biggest impact in his life, but individuals who he admired and learned from – like Miss Virginia Jones, a tenant leader in Newark, NJ. He stressed the importance of not focusing on the big ways to help, at the expense of the seemingly small things we can do right now that may have a big impact in someone’s life. “The biggest thing you can do in any day is a small act of kindness,” he said. “That’s the best way to lead.” He made us all feel important and powerful and able to make a difference.
While one of Senator Booker’s last answers also included us all, it spoke directly to a key principle of Buxton’s success. “How do we stop the slide back to Jim Crow?” another man asked.
“We solve it by standing together,” Booker said. “By working together.”
That says it all.