When former Newark Mayor and U.S. Senator Cory Booker spoke to America days ago in a stunning speech at the Democratic National Convention, he reached inside himself to use words that speak to his soul: the late Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise."
Booker reached out for Angelou's assistance to express his civic vision before, using the same poem during his 2010 State of the City speech as he looked to inspire a city trying to cure a range of urban ills.
Booker said that Angelou's words dig deep for him, Newark and the nation.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.
"The poem touches all of us," Booker said in a hotel lobby on Thursday as he waded through a crowd of acolytes augmented after his Monday night DNC speech. "It talks to all of us about overcoming, enduring, surviving and ultimately thriving,"
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
The poem, originally part of an advertising campaign for the United Negro College Fund, is beyond just public relations. The speaker, while questioning society, projects confidence and a drive to rise above any sense of despair.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.
Booker laughed when reminded that he was mistaken for Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention just after Obama delivered a speech that eventually led to his name being written on the presidential ticket.
Recently on a short list of potential vice-presidential candidates, Booker demurred when asked if he was having his Obama moment now in the wake of his own nationally noted speech. Instead, he returned to the words that stirred him to speak out to both Newark and the nation.
"Newark is the city I go home to every weekend and recess, and all of us have our challenges and struggles," Booker said before he dove back into the convention tide. "The poem is one of the treasures from Maya Angelou's canon. In the end, it's all about hope."
Out of the huts of history's shame
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.