Sen. Booker (D-N.J.), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and former Joint Center President and CEO Ralph Everett attend the center’s annual dinner at the Marriott Marquis Washington D.C. hotel.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies honored Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and its former President and CEO Ralph Everett June 25 for their work in making public policy equal and fair to all. “We stand on the shoulders of so many who gave their lives, their time, and their talents because of a fervent belief of a better tomorrow,” Barbara Johnson, chairman of the Board of Governors for the center, said during the center’s annual gala dinner at the Marriott Marquis Washington D.C. hotel in Northwest.

“The tomorrow for them was shaped by a belief that by working across party lines, developing and cultivating political leaders and relying on what was in their hearts … that we could bring about positive change to our government and in this country.”

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies provides research, analysis, and information dissemination on national public policy debates to improve the socioeconomic status of African Americans and other people of color in the United States. Everett served as one of the center’s five presidents from January 2007 to December 2013. “He took it through the times when we suffered tremendous economic turmoil in our economy, so he had to go through some lean times, but he kept the organization together and did an outstanding job and now he’s passed the baton over to another great leader and it’s fitting that we honor him for what he has done, and the fact he took this organization and accomplished so much under difficult circumstances,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told the  AFRO.

Spencer Overton, a law professor at The George Washington University, is currently the interim president.

Booker was honored with the Louis E. Martin Great American award for improving the human condition. The award’s namesake was the center’s principal founder and first chairman of its Board of Governors.

“United Sates Senator Cory Booker is at the forefront of a new generation of leaders who have the creed of old orthodoxies in effort to serve their communities and our nation at large,” Robert Raben, secretary for the Board of Governors, said before presenting the award. “What we see is a relentless determination to bring hope to our communities, to give young people the fighting chance to achieve their dreams and to reach out to any potential ally to think beyond the bounds of convention in order to get the job done.”

Booker became New Jersey’s first African-American senator after he won an election to fill the seat of Frank Lautenberg who passed in June of 2013. Before filling the seat, he served as the mayor of Newark, where he lowered crime, increased economic growth and quality of life with more affordable housing, new green spaces and parks, increased educational opportunities and more efficient city services.

During his acceptance speech, Booker attributed his opportunities to the sacrifices and challenges that his parents and other Americans faced to gain rights for Black people in the United States. “The urgency is here now and what is painful to me is that as society progresses we don’t seem to understand the truth of who this nation is, that when people fought in the ’60s, they did not fight for Black justice, they fought for the soul of a nation for American justice.”

The center has honored 11 other leaders with the Great American Award since 2003, including former President of the United States Bill Clinton in 2006, Dr. Dorothy Height in 2009, the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 2010, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) in 2011, and Ambassador Susan Rice in 2013.

Booker’s fellow Congressional Black Caucus members, including Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) attended the gala. Gertrude Martin, a devoted participant at the Joint Center’s galas, was presented flowers during the dinner for her 100th birthday.

LaTrina Antoine

Special to the AFRO