Star power attracted a crowd of more than 1,500 people Saturday to see Oprah Winfrey, Gayle King and Newark Mayor Cory Booker at the 25th annual Whitesboro Reunion.
The celebrities came to pay tribute to the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro organization. Their appearance was driven by the connections among them.
Stedman Graham is a Whitesboro native and executive director of the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro. He is the longtime partner of Winfrey, chairwoman of the Oprah Winfrey Network, commonly known as OWN. Winfrey is best friends with Gayle King, who is co-host of “CBS This Morning.” And King is one of the best friends of Cory Booker, the Newark mayor and U.S. Senate candidate who has a national profile.
Booker is running against Republican Steve Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota, to fill the seat of the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg. A special election will be held Oct. 16.
Winfrey, 59, who appeared at the 20th Whitesboro Reunion in 2008, introduced Booker, 44, the keynote speaker.
A talk-show host and philanthropist, Winfrey revealed that the first political check she ever wrote in her life went to Booker when he ran for mayor of Newark, Essex County. Booker has the “it factor,” she said.
“He’s intelligent. He went to Yale. He went to Stanford. He’s a Rhodes Scholar. I don’t even know what Rhodes Scholar means,” Winfrey joked.
When she was a TV reporter, Winfrey said she spent one night in the projects to see what it was like and do a story about it. Booker moved into the projects and stayed there for the next seven years, Winfrey said. Because of this, Booker understands the lives of everyone gathered at the reunion Saturday, Winfrey said.
“I believe in Cory Booker. When he is elected to the United States Senate on Oct. 16, he will be only the fourth African American to hold that position since Reconstruction,” Winfrey said.
Booker saluted the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro by saying, “When we are together as a people, we can do incredible things.”
The Newark mayor spent most of his time talking about the forces that shaped him, particularly his parents. His father, Cary Alfred Booker, would never allow him as a young man to forget where he came from.
“Son, you are, you have to understand, the physical manifestation of a conspiracy of love,” Booker said his father told him.
Booker’s father was born to a poor single mother in the mountains of North Carolina. When his mother couldn’t take care of him anymore, the people in his town stood up and put food on the table and a roof over his head.
“But for them, there would be no you,” said Booker, quoting his father talking about the people in the neighborhood who helped Booker’s grandmother.
Booker also talked about the discrimination his parents faced in trying to buy their first home in Harrington Park, Bergen County. Any home they wanted to buy they were told was already sold, but when a white couple would come immediately after them, the home was available. His father had to get a volunteer lawyer to accompany him to a real estate office to tell the Realtor that he was in violation of New Jersey Fair Housing Law.
“Don’t act like you hit a triple. You were born on third base,” said Booker of what his father told him when he got too full of himself.
Booker told the audience at the end of his remarks that everyone has to decide whether to accept things they way they are or to take on the responsibility to make them better. He specifically mentioned giving women equal pay for equal work and bringing down the incarceration rate.
“You can consume all the blessing you have, or you can become a force for change,” Booker said.
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