Oprah Winfrey may rule out a 2020 run to end President Donald Trump’s reign of terror over this country, but Cory Booker might not. In Atlanta Saturday, the U.S. senator from New Jersey was a thunderous presence at the King Center’s annual Salute to Greatness Awards Gala, where he was the main honoree.
Introduced by Andrew Young—a King confidant as well as a former U.S. ambassador and former Atlanta mayor—Booker chose not to take on Trump directly at the gala that kicked off the somber 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Instead, Booker spoke of the failed leadership of his own generation, dropping hints that he was up to the task.
While recounting his late father’s disappointment that a black boy might have been better off in 1936, when Booker’s dad was born poor to a single mother in a segregated community, than now, Booker proclaimed, “We have not fulfilled the legacy of King.”
And he backed it up, citing his generation as one of mass incarceration as well as noting the gulfs of racial health disparities and the widening wealth gap.
Booker blasted his generation’s widespread sense of entitlement.
“We have inherited so much from the legacy of King and that generation. We drink deeply from wells of freedom and liberty and opportunity that we did not dig,” he confessed.
“So, I’m accepting this award not for things I have done, but as a challenge for what I and my generation must do,” he said near the close of his speech.
“If my generation can live up to his example, not for one day, not for one year, but for decades like the heroes around here, I tell you, if we can live up to that example, we are going to hand off a legacy of a country greater than the one we inherited,” he predicted.
“If we live like that, we will take poverty and bring prosperity. If we live like that, we won’t turn our backs on refugees; we will welcome them with open arms. If we live like that, then yes, maybe justice can roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream,” he ended to loud applause.
Booker—who also had kind words for King’s youngest child, Bernice King, who, like her mother, Coretta Scott King, before her, now runs the King Center—made no direct or indirect references to Trump and his recent “shithole” comments, but that was not the case for San Juan, Puerto Rico, Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.
Trump came up often as Cruz, who introduced herself as the great-granddaughter of a sugarcane plantation worker who was “supposed to be a free man but, in actuality, was enslaved,” accepted her Special Recognition for Humanitarian Leadership Award.
“Martin Luther King Jr. said nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity,” she noted in her address. “He was right then, and he is right today.”
Taking the opportunity to also update the audience on the condition of her city and that of Puerto Rico overall, Cruz reported that there are “more than a million Puerto Ricans that still don’t have electric power, who still have to walk from one place to another by holding a rope to get food, water and medication for their children.
“And I am still mad,” she said, anger singeing her voice. “And I’m still enraged that those called upon by the powers that be to be good in nature try and put us down. So, this isn’t just in Puerto Rico that this is happening.
“We are all Puerto Ricans today. We are all Haitians today. We are all people of Africa today,” she added to applause, referencing Trump’s “shithole” comments about Haiti and African countries.
Taking a brief break from speaking and posing for pictures with attendees after the Salute to Greatness dinner, Cruz had more Trump commentary.
“There’s a man that doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get it,” she told The Root. “He’s incapable of feeling empathy because he’s never had to do anything in his life. And you just can’t tiptoe around it and be politically correct about it ... because people’s lives are at stake.”