Senator Cory Booker stopped by Black Coffee — BET's daily news and talk show — this week to discuss everything from reparations and reproductive rights, his political past and, quite possibly, his presidential future.
The New Jersey senator sat down with hosts Marc Lamont Hill, Gia Peppers and Jameer Pond and before going deep on policy, he warmed up with some conversation on the culture.
“Well you have to understand, my girlfriend [actress Rosario Dawson] makes fun of me because sometimes I am, you know, living in a cultural box at times,” he acknowledged.
After a quick game of “This or That” (and you should know that the Senator chose sweet potato pie over pumpkin pie), Booker revealed he’s actually a long-time vegan, and expressed his delight in witnessing a cultural upturning of Black folks going “green.”
"There are massive Black vegan affinity groups out there,” he said, clearly striking on a topic he’s very passionate about. “There are Black vegans on Instagram and there are Black vegans Twitter feeds.”
Booker later explained the role that his upbringing had on his decision to enter public service and shared the moments he realized that racial disparities — from housing discrimination all the way to the United States Senate — were “baked throughout the system.”
The former Newark mayor shared that out of concern for the discriminatory practice of red-lining, his parents actually decided to create a ruse. They asked a white couple to pose as them, in order to purchase the house he grew up in.
“We grew up in a very nurturing community, but I saw the contrast as a kid between how a lot of my friends were treated and how I was treated, followed in malls, you know, pulled over many more times,” he said.
He continued, “And, you know, I still remember coming to the United States senate and I was the only Black person in our Democratic caucus. And, you know, just understanding that here is this powerful body that makes decisions about African Americans. And a lot of those decisions I believe are better informed when African Americans are at the table.”
The young Senator quickly observed that the Judiciary Committee, for example, had very few African American staffers. He approached Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) with the help of fellow lawmaker Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).
“And [I] just said, look, we have a real diversity problem in the United States Senate. You've got to have more African Americans on staff. And so we asked him to start making every staff, every Senate central office publish their diversity statistics, which they do. [Because] once you have accountability, you get more people hired,” he said.
Booker, who also served on the Newark City Council for the Central Ward from 1998 to 2002, discussed his efforts, as well as detail his initiatives for criminal justice reform.
He then went on to talk about the hot-button issue of reparations, Pond asked the Jersey Senator his thoughts on initiating restitution, if any. Booker went on to detail the importance of reparations, not just for Black people, but for all.
"That is the most important question in many ways… because if you ask 10 people in a room, they all have different ideas," the 50-year-old senator started.
"Somebody might be [a] white working class person that thinks, 'Oh, that reparations, they just want to take money from me and give it to somebody else.' So the problem is, we have this debate and many people fall into a defensive posture. So the bill that I have in the Senate, basically says 'Timeout! Let's admit that there is a historically rooted problem to continuing generations of disadvantage that starts in slavery, but didn't stop there.'
While many of the 24 Democratic candidates for President have been pressed on their views around reparations, Booker stated that the bottom line comes down to leveling the economic playing field and dealing with past, measurable impacts on communities.
“So my bill is about bringing the best minds together,” he said. “It's just not only studying this issue, but coming up with specific recommendations about how we can deal with the continuing legacy of the impact of slavery, and overtly racist policies that went all the way up into the 1960s."
When Hill asked about the possibility of an all-Black presidential ticket, the candidate pointed to diversity in general as the key to a strong team.
“We've had all-white tickets for a very long time. I definitely think an all-Black ticket is possible because at the end of the day, I think Americans want the most qualified people to be their presidents,” said Booker. “Look, I think we will have better teams if they're diverse. And so if I am the nominee, I'm going to look for a woman, but I'm really going to look for the best person that can represent the change we need as a nation.”
Booker also spoke candidly about his focus in going up against Donald Trump.
“We make a mistake of making this election all about him. That's what he wants. He wants us to fight him on his turf and his terms. I am going to run a campaign that does not fight him in the gutter.”
Hill went on to ask Booker's thoughts on the critique of whether he resonated with the Black community, which Booker brushed off.
"I'll be honest with you, I am here because I won the city council seat in African American communities," the Senator began. “So I don't care what people say. They're always going to come at you for lots of different reasons. I hear lots of things about myself. I have people complain that my campaigning is too Black. That I'm not going to win, and 'You're not going to win in white neighborhoods,' and I'm like you gotta be kidding me. I'm a statewide elected official from a state that is only 12% Black.”
Booker came full circle on the message of the impact of his family on his life’s calling.
“We are all here because we didn't listen to what people said about us,” he continued. “My father told me there's two ways to go through life: as a thermometer or a thermostat. A thermometer is going to listen to what everybody says and just reflect the temperature of the room. A thermostat focuses in on the mission. My mission in life, I am in politics because when I was coming out of law school, I said, there's savage inequalities in this country. I'm going to move to a community that’s been overlooked, looked down upon, cast out, and I'm going to prove that by us coming together, we are going to create change that people don't think is possible.”
Tune in to Black Coffee, live, every weekday at 10am EST, on BET Digital!