The memory of the late Congressman Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, was honored at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Greater Baltimore on Nov. 18, as constituents, colleagues, family members, and friends gathered to remember his contributions to the Elijah Cummings Youth Program (ECYP). Designed to foster better relations between Baltimore’s African American and Jewish communities, ECYP sends promising young African American students from the community to Israel as part of a two-year leadership program.
Organized by The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore and the Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC), the event featured a series of speakers who recounted the Congressman’s contributions to the program and to their own lives. An estimated 140 people were in attendance, according to Howard Libit, BJC Executive Director.
Debra S. Weinberg, the Associated’s chair of the board, opened the event, telling the audience that Cummings “made a tremendous impact on our Jewish community and our entire city, and deserves us taking a moment to acknowledge him.”
“To me one of his most precious legacies is really the founding of this Elijah Cummings Youth Program,” Weinberg continued. “It was amazing because it was 20 years ago that it was founded. And since that time, over 200 students have come through those gates. It’s been empowered by his passion and his vision for unity and, really, for their destiny.”
Weinberg went on to read an address sent by Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md. “He used his harmonious nature to bring Baltimore’s Jewish and African American communities together to discuss the city’s challenges,” read the senator’s statement, which went on to say Cummings “spoke for those who had no voice, both in Baltimore, and across our country.”
The Honorable Chaya Friedman, past chair of the ECYP, spoke next, recounting the story of the program’s beginnings. “The idea was that if we could educate the future leaders of the African American community about Israel and the struggles of the Jewish community, and have them build relationships with Jews in the community, that when they are running the city, and conflict arises, it would be easier to communicate and have meaningful dialogue.”
Friedman went on to say that, unlike many who lend their names to things while being minimally involved, “This was not a name lending organization for Elijah. This was a soul lending project for him. He put his soul into ECYP. He attended the meetings, the graduation, reunions, and, of course, the interviews of the children who applied to get into the program.”
“Our numbers show our impact,” said Kathleen St. Villier Hill, the ECYP’s Director. “100% of ECYP students have graduated from high school, and 95% have graduated from college.”
During the event, the organizers played a tribute video where, in his own words, Cummings encapsulated his feelings towards the program that bears his name, saying that he would be glad “just to know that I had an opportunity, and took advantage of it, to help young people to emerge with a broader insight, [and] great appreciation for the Israeli people,” even when he would be “dancing with the angels.”