October 17, 2019
Reflections on the Legacy of U.S. Congressman Cummings
It was Friday, August 9, at 5 p.m. Not many people were present at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. But Congressman Elijah E. Cummings was here. He came to say a quick hello to the Youth Advisory Board meeting of the Center for Adolescent Health in room E6519.
And he stayed.
What was supposed to be 15 minutes turned into a half hour, then an hour, and then two. Seated at the head of the table, the Congressman asked each of a dozen Baltimore teenagers about their lives, and responded to each with lessons from his own. With his characteristic humor, he would occasionally glance at the clock and say, “Uh oh, someone’s going to be mad at me,” before jumping back into the dialogue.
In room E6519 with the Baltimore young people, Congressman Cummings did not dwell on his remarkable career or political challenges in Washington, D.C. Instead, he talked about how to keep faith in the midst of adversity, what being a parent meant to him, and why it was important for everyone to look out for others in need.
Our city and our nation are now mourning the loss of Congressman Cummings, a son of Baltimore, graduate of City College High School, Howard University, and the University of Maryland School of Law. His career in public service began in 1982 when he became a state delegate, serving for 14 years, including as the first African American to serve as speaker pro tem in the state legislature. In 1996 he was elected to Congress, where he quickly became a powerful voice for his city and his country on a broad range of local and national issues.
Our School mourns his loss too. He was more than a frequent visitor and collaborator; he was a natural teacher of public health. He called on us to devote ourselves to improving our city, to respect people of all backgrounds in our work, and, most of all, to remember that “children are the messages we send to a future we will not see.” He embodied this phrase, taking every opportunity to spend time with young people.
That’s what brought him to our School on August 9. His legacy will be countless people of every age working for health and justice in our city and nation. His memory should inspire us all.
Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD
Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement
Bloomberg School of Public Health
The Johns Hopkins University