Why was Newark selected as one of the Eleven Town Halls?
I commend all short speechmakers, but especially when the assembled crowd must withstand the a numbing cold and pouring rain of a dispiriting Washington mid-November day. I did not beat Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg short speech record time. I certainly did not approach his eloquence. But the assembled young and old coin collectors were tolerant of my remarks about the meaning of the half-completed Capitol Dome that appears on the tails side of the new DC penny. They will remember that it was slaves and free black artisans who in the main built the Capitol. And the treat for all was the new penny distributed by the Director of the United States Mint, Ed Moy.
Then I took Amtrak to Newark for a Town Hall. The three hours-plus provided time for reflection about the Newark Town Hall. I looked forward to hearing Eric Foner – an outstanding scholar whose articles in The Nation and his monographs prove to all that there is value in reading history. He is near completing a book on Lincoln and slavery. What a complex subject, but without the Emancipation Proclamation we would surely not celebrate Lincoln's greatness.
I also looked forward to the Newark Town Hall as an opportunity to personally thank Prudential Financial's CEO John Strangfeld and its foundation director Mary O'Malley for Prudential's generous support of the Bicentennial's civic and education programs.
The program on the humane city moderated by Commissioner and Newark native professor Jim Horton was nothing short of sensational. All the speakers were powerful and original. Each in his/her own way urged youth not to return to passive acceptance of injustice but to work for change.
It was, however, the audience, students from Rutgers Newark and residents from every profession and the jobless and homeless too, who took my breath away. If Lincoln continues to talk to many, and he clearly does, it is because of his birth into intense poverty, ability to overcome depression, his fight for education, and his entry into the "I made it" group.
There is pain, and intense poverty in Newark. There is pride. People continue to believe they can lift themselves out of poverty. But how!
Everyone agreed, we need to move out of our comfort zones and meet with those unlike ourselves. We need to organize our own Team of Rivals; get everyone involved to pursue a more perfect union with economic justice for all.