Interactive Opening Speaker: Cory Booker
SXSW Interactive 2017 began with Chief Programming Officer Hugh Forrest‘s annual opening remarks. After he explained the new badge system for 2017 and highlighted some trends he had seen for 2017, he introduced the first featured speaker Cory Booker. Booker is currently a state senator from New Jersey, and was previously the Mayor of Newark.
Booker’s intended message for the session became evident pretty quickly. His emphasis throughout the talk was on love. He shared a story of how Abraham Lincoln, upon completing his inaugural address after winning his second presidency sought out Frederick Douglass to seek his remarks on how the speech went. Booker emphasized Douglass’ reply, saying he told Lincoln it was a “scared effort.”
In a politically charged year like 2017 has been, Booker sounded more like a pastor than a senator, preaching a nation of love compassion. He pointed out that “tolerance” should not be the goal, stating that he “tolerates a cold.” Again, his goal was to advocate a more loving society.
“Tolerance builds fences, love tears them down,” Booker continued.
The audience was engaged throughout his discussion, which included anecdotes such as when he recalled a story about while he was studying at Yale, he “followed that great American prophet Chris Rock,” in regards to an observation Rock noticed about how all the crime ridden straights in major cities were named after Martin Luther King, Jr. Booker lived on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Newark, and remarked that he got his “BA from Stanford, but got his masters from the streets of Newark.”
Booker became even more impassioned when discussing his mentor, a blind man named Frank. He was visibly emotional as he discussed the profound impact Frank had on his life, teaching him humility and that “service not celebrity, purpose not popularity” are what’s most important in life. The message continued as Booker recalled Frank’s last words to him while lying in a bed in hospice: “I see you, I love you.”
Despite sounding very presidential throughout, Booker pointed out that a lot of people in power make the mistake of focusing on “position more than purpose,” implying he would prefer to stay a Senator and try to have a positive affect in that role. With the recent actions taken in Washington, it was refreshing to see such an incredibly impassioned speech of love and acceptance.
Booker left the audience with one important call to action:
“If we are silent in the face of injustice, then we are complicit in that injustice.”
Message received, Senator.