Elijah Cummings: A Man of Fire

Early Thursday morning, while scrolling Twitter, I came across the name of Elijah Cummings. The entirety of the headline was concealed, so I clicked on the link, with the thought that Rep. Cummings had made national news again by virtue of his public service.

I was stunned. 

“Rep. Elijah Cummings … dies at 68.”

It hit close to home for me. My father, born three months after Rep. Cummings, is also 68. It is amazing to think the burdens that men of their age are willing to carry — above all else, the burden of caretakers. My dad — a caretaker for our grandmother. Rep. Cummings — a caretaker for his constituency. 

It’s not enough to think about the fact that Rep. Cummings was born in the earliest part of the 1950s. We must look at what that means for a young Black man growing up. How, as teenagers, both Malcolm X and Dr. King were assassinated. Even as a young child, Supreme Court decisions were being made that declared school segregation unconstitutional.

And then there was the moment that changed Rep. Cummings’ life forever.

In grade school, a counselor told the representative that he was too slow to learn and spoke poorly, which would never allow him to fulfill his dream of being a lawyer.

It turned Rep. Cummings into a man on fire.

“I was devastated,” Rep. Cummings told the Associated Press back in 1996. “My whole life changed. I became very determined.”

He went from being a child of the civil rights movement to legislating — and seeking to preserve — civil rights. He was versatile in his ability to investigate, whether challenging presidential administrations or the use of steroids in sports. He wasn’t afraid to say “Black Lives Matter.”

His journey is decorated and appreciated. It is also a cautionary tale — not just of the balance between work, health, and growing older. It is also a challenge for us, his successors. Our heroes are getting older. It is unimaginable that our mentors could ever leave us, yet here we are. And yet, there’s so much more that needs to be done. 

According to Biblical accounts, the prophet Elijah was a man of fire — having brought fire down from the sky, and ascended to Heaven in the same fashion. When Elijah did, his protege immediately took up his mantle.

We owe it to the representative Elijah Cummings, a trailblazer if ever there was one, to do the same. Rest in power.

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