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As published in the East Texas Review.

Congressman Elijah E. Cummings:
A True Representative - Part Two

The nationally televised presidential debate last week, sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), was introduced by Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Maryland), Chair of the CBC and five-term U.S. Representative from Baltimore. For many, it was an introduction to Mr. Cummings himself. So that you can know more about him, here is part two of my recent interview.
Hon. Elijah Cummings      I asked, What are your goals for legislation in the House?
     Elijah E. Cummings: “Education. It is very important that we get more funds into our schools. In most schools it’s a luxury to have one computer for every 5 children; many have one for every 100 children. The greatest threat to our national security is the failure to educate our children."
     "The very person who could be finding the cure to cancer, or who could be defending this country, may be sitting right now in jail. The one who could create works like Picasso, is dead at an early age."
     “When I look carefully at the people I represent, maybe 60-80% of their problems began when these folks were children. The American people need to look at the results of a program like Head Start and see that lawyers, doctors and teachers who grew up in very poor families had a Head Start. They need to see that paying on the front end will benefit on the back end.
     “Also, healthcare. When you’ve got 44 million-plus people uninsured in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it makes sense to have universal healthcare. I’ve never been in a situation where I couldn’t get treatment, but I feel it would make me sicker if resources were there but I couldn’t get them.
     “The American people need to see people with courage, with compassion, and be willing to stand up for what they believe, so we can create a critical mass of people doing the right thing.”
(left to right) Congressman Elijah E. Cummings with
     I told Mr. Cummings about an article I wrote as a person who has undergone years of aggressive chemotherapy for breast cancer. I know the terror and anguish of serious illness. I was lucky to have health insurance, and it tears me apart to think of what people endure without it, how thousands die, including a high percentage of African Americans.
     Mr. Cummings urged me “to testify, because you know what it feels like to be in that battle. You could help policy makers be more compassionate towards people and respectful of life.”
     I would welcome testifying in behalf of universal health care. I would say what I learned in classes taught by Eli Siegel (1902-78), founder of the education Aesthetic Realism about ethics in economics and life, and the crucial question he asked: What does a person deserve by being a person? In Mr. Cummings’ tribute to Eli Siegel entered into the U.S. Congressional Record last July, he speaks of the “thousands of lectures on the arts and sciences,” given by Mr. Siegel.
     In my testimony, I would quote from one of these lectures, a 1968 National Ethics Report, in which he said: “Nobody should ever have to pay for having his body [cared for]. The idea of people worried about their health, worrying about money or about insurance at all, is barbarous!”
     My next question was: “Would you like to mention highlights of your career and accomplishments you’re most proud of?”
     EEC: “The highlights of my life, of course, would be my daughters, ages nine and twenty-one. Of all the roles I have, the one that stands out is being a father.”
     “The highlight of my political career was certainly being sworn into Congress. My father, who had such a difficult life, was there and he said, literally in tears, ‘Now I see what I could have been if I had an education or been allowed to have an opportunity.’
     “I’d also like to mention that we’ve been able to get drug treatment money to help our constituents. That’s another of my priorities. And I was able to pass a long-term care insurance package that affects all Federal employees and retirees.”
     While Mr. Cummings expressed this modestly, the fact is that through legislation he introduced - which was passed in 2000 by both Houses - twenty million federal, postal and uniformed services employees and retirees are eligible for federal long-term care insurance – costs usually not covered by health insurance or Medicare.
     AB: Is there a particular subject you look forward to learning more about?
     EEC: “I’m interested to learn how African Americans maneuvered through slavery and also the Reconstruction era when we had African American Senators and Congressmen. It’s hard to believe that happened in this country with our racist situation now. I want to learn more about what people went through and how we got to where we are today. In several recent trips to the South, I was struck that while we think slavery is a long time ago, many people’s lives are not real far from 1865 – they’re still struggling; living in conditions people lived in right out of slavery.”
     AB: To know you more fully, what are some other things you’re interested in?
     EEC: “First of all, I love plants. I have plants at home and watch them quite a bit. The thing I love about plants is that they turn to the light. Deep in our hearts most of us want to turn to truth. The politician who puts his finger in the air to figure out which way the wind is blowing, and then says ‘This is what I’m for,’ is least respected. People want truth!
     “When people ask me for an autograph, I write “Reach for the light,” which means reach for truth. That reminds me of our good friend, Eli Siegel: reaching for the light, for what is best, and asking how do I get the best out of something.”
     That love of truth and justice is in the poem by Eli Siegel, recited by Elijah Cummings in his Congressional tribute to the great poet:
          Something Else Should Die: A Poem with Rhymes
          In April 1865 Abraham Lincoln died.
          In April 1968 Martin Luther King died.
          Their purpose was to have us say, some day:
          Injustice died.

Continue to part 3 of story.
Return to part 1 of story.

This series of articles was also published in: 
The Harlem Times, New York Beacon, East Texas Review, Philadelphia New Observer,  La Vida News/The Black Voice (Ft. Worth, TX), Chicago Defender, Milwaukee Times,  Omaha Star, Caribbean Life, Birmingham Times, New Voice of NY, Long Beach Times (CA), Tennessee Tribune, Buffalo Criterion (NY), Carib News, Philippine Post, Madison Times (WI), Black News (SC), Michigan Chronicle, South Carolina Black News