On Mother’s Day, Booker Releases Podcast Episode Featuring His Mom
Deeply personal conversation covers caregiving, chicken pox, and being the best for your ancestorsMay 14, 2018
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) today published an episode of his “Lift Every Voice” podcast featuring a deeply personal and moving conversation with his mom for Mother’s Day.
In the episode, Booker’s mom, Carolyn, shares her thoughts and experiences on raising black boys in America, climbing the corporate ladder as a black woman, and caring for loved ones in the final stages of life, as well as a poignant story about chicken pox and oatmeal baths that formed Senator Booker’s future commitment to paid family leave. She also recounts her time as part of the nonviolent protest movement while a student at Fiske University and the March on Washington as a volunteer organizer, and how she passed that commitment to service and justice on to her two sons.
Booker launched the Lift Every Voice podcast earlier this year, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as a way to shine a light on overlooked issues of injustice and inequality and share inspiring stories of change. The podcast features an exclusive recording of the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing” performed by the choir at Booker’s church in Newark, the Metropolitan Baptist Church.
On raising kids with a “foundation of love”:
“You often remember my saying to you that children didn’t come with an instruction book. So my instruction book was how I was raised and your dad’s likewise was how he was raised in his community and his family. And we put those together and that was the backbone of how we raised you – with a foundation of love.”
On her participation in the burgeoning civil rights movement and the March on Washington:
“It was probably one of the great opportunities that was presented to me. You have to remember that during my senior year in 1961 the sit-in movement was well on its way in Nashville with John Lewis and Diane Nash who was a classmate of mine and many of my classmates did far far more.
“Dr. King often said that everybody can do something. So we all found a way to participate. And it was a commitment made there, in seeing and being a part of that movement that said to me, ‘This is important in life,’ that we have to bring about greater understanding. We need each other too much to not be respectful and treat each other with kindness and love. So that’s what we did, is that we took that message with us.
“So that summer, having the opportunity through my godparents and people they knew to volunteer and work to make the March on Washington successful, to make sure there was no violence, to make sure that it was peaceful and that it moved the movement forward was very important to us.
“This march was so well-planned and well-orchestrated in every city and every church that sent busloads of people into Washington. It was great just to be on the grounds – to hear the speeches that day, to meet the celebrities and people that spoke out on justice and equality and to be there to hear ‘I Have a Dream’ as it was being given for the first time or breathed life into for the first time, was quite a moment and I was very grateful to have had a role in planning that kind of anticipation of a need. And also to be the interface for our group with the DC police department to make sure that we understood all the security and everything that was being done to make sure it was a peaceful march.”
On raising two black boys in a predominantly white community in the 70s and 80s:
“Well, the thing I found, Cory, was that, while some of these things might be societal issues, when it gets down to people knowing you and being able to communicate first-hand with you, is their views begin to change. And we’ve tried to be an example wherever we were. You may recall that when you went off to school I told you I would get my report card because I wouldn’t be there to remind you to do things that you should be doing, like did you study for your test, did you clean your room, did you do your chores, and those kinds of things. So, likewise, wherever you go I take my ancestors with me. And I want to be the best I can be for them and I wanna be an example of what I want the world to be like. So therefore putting ourselves in places where we may have looked out of place gave us a wonderful opportunity to teach by example and to work with people that maybe we would never have gotten the chance if we hadn’t been neighbors.”
On being a black woman in corporate America:
“I think my advice is a simple one: racism exists. Acknowledge it, but don’t let it run your life. Be the person you want to be, bring you’re A-game, be excellent in what you do; no one never denies excellence.”
On Cory’s most embarrassing childhood story:
Mom: “I don’t know if it’s embarrassing, but you came down with chicken pox and the doctor had suggested that I pick up some oatmeal baths for you and you thought that this was one of the most ridiculous thing you had ever heard and you said, ‘We don’t need to do that, I’m never getting in an oatmeal bath, that’s not what oatmeal is for, and no way am I getting in an oatmeal bath.’
“You had no idea what you were in for, with the chicken pox and the itching and so forth. And one morning as I was getting dressed to go to work – and I think I might have been traveling that week – you came in and you had had such a bad night and you were in so much pain and you came in and said ‘Mom, I think I’m ready to try one of those oatmeal baths. I can’t stand it anymore.’
“And of course we stopped and got you situated in a nice cooling oatmeal bath and it made you feel so much better and you were just luxuriating in it so and I thought, ‘this is why parents do what doctors tell them to do and not listen to their children some times,’ because I was so glad we had picked them up so we had them ready for you when you gave in.”
Cory: “The most beautiful thing about this moment for me was lying in that oatmeal bath feeling this melodramatic misery, and you were getting ready for your business trip, and I looked at you and with all of the melodrama and overstatement, I looked at you and I said, ‘Mom, if you leave me now, I will die.’ And I just remember you staring at me. I don’t know what was going through your head. You looked at me quietly for a long time, you put down your stuff, said nothing, walked over to the phone, made some phone call, hung up the phone, started getting out of your business attire, looked at me and said, ‘I will stay with you.’
“To this day it was a moment for me that said, ‘You are my number one priority. You’re not gonna die kid, but I will stay with you.’ It’s one of the reasons to day I fight so fiercely for paid family leave because I know every American mom doesn’t have the ability to do what you did. But the fact that you did that, it was one of those times in my life where I felt so thoroughly and completely loved by my mother and I still feel this incredible sense of gratitude for that moment.”
On the hardest thing she’s ever done:
Mom: “I would say that the most difficult job – and I’ve done it twice now – is to be a caregiver for someone you love. Because It’s not the kind of job anybody would sign up for or volunteer for, it’s one that you do because you love the people in your life so much. And I had that honor with both my husband – your father – and my mother. Those were the greatest times of our lives as well as the most difficult.
Cory: “You transitioned both people to death, Mom. You were by the bedside of both dad and grandma during the difficult times when they couldn’t take care of themselves.”
Mom: “Exactly. Your father and I made a pact when he was first diagnosed that we were not going to change our lives and we were going to find the humor and laugh our way through the difficult times. You know your father and his sense of humor and his sense of play and so those were wonderful times and wonderful stories.”
Cory: “It was hard for me, especially when you guys were in Atlanta and I was living in New Jersey. I remember Cary and I almost had to do an intervention and get you home help. Because most people who don’t experience this don’t know, for the caregiver – it is financially demanding, it is physically demanding. I remember how you got hurt trying to take care of someone.”
“It literally inspired legislation that I wrote for us to do some things financially to help caregivers who are all around our country right now helping people as they transition. It was one of the more painful moments for Cary and I but the attitude of you and dad and your strength…how difficult it was for you physically, emotionally, even some of the financial challenges, and your heroism to me…was something that was moving and inspiring and now has made me a better legislator and advocate for others who are caregiving.”
On whether she ever thought her son would become a U.S. Senator:
“I wanted you to be happy in life. To get joy out of life. What you become is always a surprise to us as well. But the key thing is, and I think I told you this when you were going off to college: I said, ‘Now I get my report card.’ And you asked me what I meant by that. And I said, ‘Well, I’m not gonna be there to tell you to make your bed, or ask you if you did your homework, or see how well you did on an exam; now you’ve got to drive your own train, you’ve got to drive your own ambition. And I will get to see if the foundation we laid for you – how it plays out in your life. That was the key because I wasn’t trying to plan for you to be any particular thing, but I wanted whatever you did in life, for you to embrace it wholeheartedly. And while I may not have picked a political career for you, I think that you are well-suited to the task.”