On June 21, the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel hosted a virtual fundraising event that discussed the legacy of Rep. Elijah Cummings, a civil rights advocate who died in 2019. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was a featured guest speaker at the event.
ECYP is a two-year program that helps high school students foster leadership, community ties and skills to thrive in a diverse society. The program builds bridges between Baltimore’s Black and Jewish communities. The students who participate are from Cummings’ district, Maryland’s 7th district, which includes Baltimore, Baltimore County and Howard County.
“We do our own fundraising, so every other year we hold the event and we have speakers,” said Kathleen St. Villier Hill, executive director of ECYP. “[We’re] asking the community to support our work.”
Typically the event is held in person, but due to COVID-19, the event was livestreamed on YouTube instead.
Jennifer Cummings, daughter of Elijah Cummings, kicked off the event by sharing a heartfelt sentiment about her dad, as well as her dedication for ECYP.
“This year is vitally important,” she said. “Tonight’s program marks the first since my father passed away, and all of us at ECYP are deeply committed to carrying on his legacy.”
This was the first mention of the overall theme of the event, which was honoring Elijah Cummings’ legacy and role in creating the program.
Then, students who are currently or have been ECYP fellows shared their positive experiences in the program.
Current fellows in the program got to know Elijah Cummings before he died two years ago. Members of the program strive to continue right where he left off.
“It just made this experience so much more valuable to know that we are the last class who would get to see him alive,” one ECYP fellow named Maia said. “We have to try our best to honor him and everything that we do because we shook his hand, and we got to meet him and know the person that he was.”
Additionally, students discussed the challenges they faced during the pandemic, and how the program effectively adapted to fit the needs of the students.
For example, the program typically includes a trip to Israel for the students, and the trip was canceled this year. However, students still were able to enjoy their experience and have interpersonal relationships with Israeli students.
Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who is now the representative for Maryland’s 7th district, introduced Pelosi and discussed how she grew up in Baltimore.
“I have absolutely no doubt that Elijah would be thrilled to have his friend, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, addressing this fellowship and this organization that meant so much to him,” Mfume said.
Pelosi spoke about her past connection with Elijah Cummings, calling him her “Baltimore brother,” and the impact he had on others in Congress.
“In the Congress, Elijah was our North Star, a leader of towering character, integrity and moral force, calling us all to our principles and higher purpose,” Pelosi said.
She also talked about what she admires about the program. Echoing others during the event, Pelosi discussed how the ECYP “strengthens the historic ties between the Black and Jewish communities in Baltimore, and across America.”
The event closed with a video of a speech by Cummings and a montage of students in the program working together, building relationships and celebrating their accomplishments with Cummings himself.
“Indeed, for over two decades, ECYP has been a force for good in our community and country,” Pelosi said. “This initiative has just helped hundreds of promising young people climb the ladders of opportunity.”