I met Elijah Cummings on October 14, 2014. He talked about growing up in Baltimore, as a young person with a learning disability. It sounded to me like he was describing dyslexia but I don’t recall him ever using that word – but the point is that he didn’t know. He and his family were just told that he was stupid, and he would never learn to read or write, and that was the constant message he heard until the middle of his sixth grade year. That year one young man, a teacher named Posey, realized Cummings’ extraordinary potential, and worked with him to find different techniques in his learning that actually worked for him.
Elijah Cummings not only went on to learn to read and write, he went to college, he went to law school, and he eventually became one of the most gifted orators and passionate advocates for the downtrodden in the United States Congress. His loss is our entire country’s loss, and we owe him – and his legacy – an immense debt for his many years of service, allyship, and tireless activism on behalf of every child that faced the same systemic obstacles as he did.
That is precisely why we need a system that all children — both those who grow up on Park Avenue like my children did, and those who grow up on the wrong side of the tracks in Baltimore like Cummings, have access to the teachers and counselors and experts to allow them to reach their full potential. We need to give schools and educators the funding and resources they need to raise the next generation of movers and shakers, and we need to do it now.
That need is not just for the sake of people like Representative Cummings. I think he enjoyed his job as a Congressmember, and we should honor his legacy, but we must also invest in the next generation for the sake of us all. When our nation refuses to foster and harness the potential of half of our population because a few tax-averse fat cats prevent schools from getting the resources they need, we squander our nation’s potential as a whole. That means that our nation is wasting half of the potential new businesses, half of the jobs that could be created, half of the fortunes that could be earned – half the ideas and innovations that help make America great in the first place.
That is why we truly need a fiscal policy to provide adequate funding for education for each and every single person in this country. That was Representative Cummings’ dream, and one he fought for his entire life. In the wake of his tragic passing, we would do well to follow the trail he blazed, and take up his fight. It’s what the next Elijah Cummings needs from us, and it’s what our country needs from us.