“I do believe that every single thing that happens to us happens for a reason,” said U.S. Congressman Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland in addressing the audience at the Claflin University 2013 Spring Convocation.
Cummings recalled that in grade school he was placed in special education classes. It was a far cry from being named Phi Beta Kappa, earning a law degree and becoming a member of the House of Representatives.
Those things did eventually transpire in the life of Cummings. But he was quick to point out to the Claflin students assembled that many people helped and motivated that remarkable transformation.
He spoke of his parents painstakingly picking crops for a living while being denied the opportunity of a proper education during the segregation era. He mentioned the attorney who first hired him coming out of law school. Those were inspirational figures, Cummings noted. However, his address also touched on an incredible twist of fate from his past.
During grade school, Cummings told his guidance counselor that he wanted to become a lawyer. The counselor unequivocally said that he would never be able to accomplish such a goal.
Ironically, one of Cummings’ first clients was arrested for drunken driving. The man was ashamed and told the burgeoning attorney that “he didn’t know him” or his circumstances well enough to properly judge him.
“I said I do know you. You’re that same counselor who told me I couldn’t be a lawyer,” said Cummings, who drew applause for the story.
Cummings, eyeing the Claflin student body, said they needed to elevate their expectations of themselves and never limit dreams because of their environment growing up. To illustrate his point, Cummings told the true story of four young women who were all around the same age and grew up in West Baltimore. Two of them were on the fast track to success through achieving a strong education while the other duo worked as prostitutes.
“We have got to be about high expectations,” he said.
In closing, he discussed how he visited the lawyer who hired him out of law school. His mentor was dying which made it a difficult encounter, Cummings said. The lawyer told Cummings how proud he was of him. “Thank you for being a part of my destiny,” he told the Congressman. Then turning attention again to the students, he said they would someday transition from being students to becoming mentors for the next generation.
“You are a part of somebody’s destiny and somebody is a part of your destiny,” said Cummings.
The Spring Convocation is held annually to acknowledge the beginning of the 2013 academic year. “This is one of many ways we celebrate the legacy of this great university,” said President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale.
He urged the faculty, staff and students of Claflin to join in that legacy.
“Claim your space,” said Tisdale.
Cummings represents the Seventh Congressional District of Maryland which covers half of Baltimore and most of Howard County. He has been a member of Congress since 1996 and serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure and Oversight and Government Reform Committees.
He is a graduate of the University of Maryland Law School and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University. Cummings had a private law practice until his election to Congress. And he served in the Maryland House of Delegates for 13 years, where he was chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and become the first African-American to be elected speaker pro tempore.
He is married to Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings and has one daughter, Jennifer.