Thursday, October 4, 2007

a mayor walks his talk

i find myself charmed by newark mayor corey a. booker and his very public efforts to walk his talk and improve conditions for the residents of his city. if you're not familiar with mr. booker, the new york times has published a series of articles documenting his battles and his efforts in newark.

the latest article is my favorite so far. i'll admit to being a soft touch for anyone who takes the time (and the accompanying emotional wallop) to mentor troubled youth, and despite his crazy schedule, mayor booker has taken on the role of big brother to three delinquent young men. he gets together with "the boys" virtually every weekend, takes them to dinner, takes them to church, takes them to lectures, and plays games with them. members of the mayor's security team have become mentors to the boys as well. it hasn't been easy, and it hasn't been an unqualified success either. the article explains:

The year together has been something of a mixed and quixotic one for the boys and for Mr. Booker. Duwon has dropped out of school and largely slipped from Mr. Booker’s orbit. Anthony, a hyperkinetic youth who once had a penchant for shoplifting, has started earning better grades. Sean’s progress has been unsteady, too. He has stayed out of trouble, but in many ways remains unmoored.

Still, in a city where crime, drugs and violence have a way of ensnaring children, the fact that all three teenagers have stayed alive and out of jail is an achievement of some magnitude.
perhaps the best part of this story, for me, is how the mayor and the boys came together. as the article explains, it was not out of mutual affection:

Shortly after Mr. Booker’s inauguration in July 2006, the police arrested three people for spray-painting the words “Kill Booker” in the hallway of a school none of them attended. This occurred when Mr. Booker and his security detail were grappling with death threats from jailed gang members.

But when he learned that those arrested were under 18, Mr. Booker made prosecutors an unusual proposition. If they would drop the charges, Mr. Booker would become the teenagers’ mentor.
ironically, a 13-year-old arrested for the vandalism was considered "too far gone" for the mayor's mentoring intervention, but the other two boys were given the chance and a relative of one of them became the third little brother.

the article is clear that it hasn't been an easy relationship, that there have been plenty of ups and downs. but i'm impressed with mayor booker's bravery and his unconditional love and support for these boys who once acted out against him. he may be a good role model for us all.

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