All we have is our name. And not that my name is… but who we are. Not what we do, but the very essence of who we are. I started this piece, the morning I woke up to the news that Rep. Elijah Cummings had died. Rep. Cummings was only sixty-eight years old. By today’s standards he should have had at least twenty more years of living. However, we all know that tomorrow is not promised, and we should all live today as if it is our last day this side of eternity.
Through-out the day people shared with news outlets their relationship with Rep. Cummings. They expressed the love and respect they had for him, both as a legislator and as a man. They described him as a man of great character, kindness and caring. A man who was committed to his family, his constituents and his country. A man of faith and of moral and political integrity.
It was said that he was brilliant, had humility, had integrity, was born to lead, and that he served for all the right reasons. Someone said that he was a moral leader, always learning, always studying, and a champion for the people of Baltimore and the United States.
During the remarks period of Rep. Cummings’ funeral service, Hillary Clinton said, “He always looked after the most vulnerable among us. He led from his soul and would say, our children are living messages for the future we will never see.”
Nancy Pelosi said, “Rep. Cummings was always willing to mentor new Congress members. By example he gave people hope and by his courage he fought for what was right.”
Kweisi Mfume, a former Maryland Congressman, remembered Rep. Cummings this way, “Elijah was both provocative and evocative, daring us to dare to be different. He had the faith to believe what others would see as impossible. He confronted life with the courage of his convictions and death with the courage of his faith.”
Others went on to say the public Elijah was the real and authentic Elijah. In his presence you were seen, heard and knew you mattered. He taught that many things were not in our control, but what was in our control was how we chose to live, and that our conscious must control our conduct.
Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama gave eulogies at Rep. Cummings funeral service. Part of President Obama’s eulogy was that Elijah Cummings was an honorable man even before he was a Congressman. He talked about Cummings’ family roots and that he had come from good soil. His family had been sharecroppers in the south and moved to Baltimore seeking a better life.
He said, “Against all odds Elijah became an attorney to make sure that others had rights. He moved to the Maryland statehouse and on to the House of Representatives because of his commitment to justice, and so that the rights of others would never, ever waver. Elijah fought for justice and the rights and opportunities of forgotten people all across America. He was never complacent, for he knew that without clarity of purpose and a steadfast faith, and the dogged determination demanded by our liberty, the promise of this nation can wither. “
President Obama went on to say, “two hundred to 300 years from now, Elijah would tell us, people will look back at this moment in time and they will ask the question, what did you do? And hearing him, we would be reminded that it falls upon each of us to give voice to the voiceless, and comfort to the sick, and opportunity to those not born to it, and to preserve and nurture our democracy.”
President Obama reminded everyone that day, how the Honorable Elijah Cummings lived his life. He also called for each of us to pick up his mantel and continue his work so that boys and girls all across the country and the world might too have an opportunity to grow and flourish.
Rep. Elijah Cummings worked up to his last days on this earth. Leading the House Oversight Committee in the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, the one thing he consistently would say was, “we are better than this.”
Rep. Cummings repeated this refrain over and over again, urging all of America to believe it and be it. He said this to the Republican members of his committee when partisanship would take priority over the rule of law.
Rep. Cummings said this when the Trump administration separated the children of migrants from their families. He said this after the President would say disparaging or racist comments.
As he walked the streets urging his beloved people of Baltimore, to stop rioting days after Freddie Gray’s death and to remember, we are better than this. He repeated those words when he performed the eulogy at Freddie Gray’s funeral.
When Rep. Elijah Cummings said, we are better than this, it’s an example of the faith Kweisi Mfume spoke of. It was him speaking the possible of what so many of us see as impossible. We see the hyper-partisanship of Washington DC. We see the clear corruption of an administration. We see a Republican Party willing to allow the dismantling of all the democratic norms that set the United States apart from other countries.
We see the brokenness of this country from climate change denial to a broken immigration system, to millions of people without healthcare, to people living with food insecurity, to young people coming out of college with insurmountable debt, to the proliferation of guns, to wealth disparity and to the increase of home grown terrorist.
The honorable Elijah Cummings was speaking to those things that are not as though they were. He was trying to get us to think higher, to be more aspirational, to become our brothers and sisters keepers. He was pleading with us to be better than we are.
Come on y’all. We are better than this!