Twenty-five years ago, Rep. Elijah Cummings had an idea.
He wanted to bring Baltimore’s Black and Jewish youth together under one banner, raising them up to be future leaders, engaging them in community service and giving them an appreciation for Israel and its culture. Cummings had long been a friend and stalwart ally to the Jewish community, frequently working with The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore and championing pro-Israel causes.
And so the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel was born, and it has been training Baltimore-area teenagers through its two-year fellowship program ever since. On Wednesday, Oct. 25, ECYP celebrated its 25th anniversary with a special reception at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, featuring current fellows, alums and speeches from Maryland politicians who have been involved with ECYP over the program’s lifespan.
“Building Leaders by Building Bridges: ECYP’s 25th Celebration Sponsorship” also doubled as a fundraiser for the program, with the money raised through tickets helping to keep the ECYP free for future fellows.
“This occasion is the perfect opportunity to reflect upon the legacy of our late great congressman [Cummings], and the enduring impact of this program and his name,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said in an address at the event. “He rightfully set the benchmark that every public servant in Baltimore, and everywhere, for that matter, should aspire to. We must aspire to emulate his passion, his care, his commitment, his determination and, most importantly, his good.”
Cummings died in 2019, but his presence and the work he did as a politician continue to affect ECYP to this day. Many of the speakers at the 25th anniversary event referenced the late congressman’s belief that “children are living messages we send to a future we will never see,” and that the best thing that adults can do is to nurture them and create positive memories for them. ECYP strives to do that by helping them form connections with Israel, and by forging bonds between the Black and Jewish communities.
Though the fundraiser was meant to celebrate ECYP’s achievements and Cummings’s legacy, Israel’s war against Hamas loomed large over the event. Many speakers took the time to acknowledge it and how ECYP fellows and alumni have responded. Rabbi Daniel Burg, an ECYP board member and the Alexander Grass Rabbinic Chair at Beth Am, led a moment of silence and prayer for the civilians killed in Israel and Gaza over the past three weeks at the beginning of the fundraiser.
“This moment of division cries out for connection,” Burg said. “Participants of ECYP have been in touch with friends and foster family in Israel. Expressions of solidarity during this time have been comforting … and have helped buoy us against the raging storm.”
Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a longtime friend of Cummings’ and the ECYP’s honorary board chair, noted in his speech that Congress had passed a resolution condemning the actions of Hamas shortly before he left for the event.
Mfume and Sen. Ben Cardin were previously part of a Baltimore-based group called Blues (a portmanteau of “Blacks and Jews”) that served as inspiration for Cummings when he founded ECYP.
“I want young people to take advantage of this program to go beyond where they are,” Mfume said. “Not just to understand your culture and your history, but the history of others who had to sacrifice, who had to struggle, who had to learn together in the face of death.”
The fundraiser’s keynote speaker was Gov. Wes Moore, who spoke about his friendship with Cummings. Cummings died before Moore announced his run for governor, and Moore viewed him as a mentor whom he consulted with before making major decisions in his life.
He also discussed how his administration has been combating antisemitism, having recently secured $5 million to fight hate crimes in the state of Maryland and creating a $16 million security grant for faith-based organizations.
“I can tell you that Elijah [Cummings] would be proud of this room,” Moore said in his keynote speech. “He loved the hope in all of us, and the idea of what we can do collectively if we act together. And to all the [ECYP] scholars, he still believes in you, all you’re going to do and all you’re going to accomplish.”