Congressman Elijah Cummings steps away from Beltway politics to unite Baltimore area students


Just a few miles separate African-American neighborhoods of West Baltimore from Jewish enclaves to the north, and Rep. Elijah Cummings has sought for years to unite these teens across his district.

On Sunday, he brought his message to one more class of them, telling a conference room of boys and girls they aren’t so different from one another.

“We have a tendency to categorize people. We say, ‘I’m not going to hang with you because you’re black. I’m not going to hang with you because you’re Jewish,” he told them. “What we’re trying to do is represent what it feels like to be in somebody else’s shoes.”

Cummings addressed teens during a social justice summit organized by his nonprofit youth program; some 75 students signed up. Those from the youth program and from Jewish neighborhoods in Baltimore came to hear his address, then discuss social justice issues, such as gun violence, school funding and food deserts.

For Cummings, chairman of the powerful U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the afternoon at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore wasn’t without some discussion of Beltway politics. Two days before, the special counsel Robert Mueller had submitted his investigation into Russian interference of the presidential election.

“It’s absolutely mandatory, as far as I’m concerned, that the Mueller report be released and the underlying data be released,” Cummings told reporters before his address.

He expected to see the report as soon as Sunday night, he said. “We will go through it very carefully.”

Attorney General William Barr released his summary of Mueller’s report Sunday afternoon, saying the investigation did not find evidence that Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia to sway the election. In his letter, Barr said he concluded that none of Trump’s actions constituted a federal crime that prosecutors could prove in court.

Democrats, meanwhile, have been conducting their own investigations into the White House.

“We will follow the evidence,” Cummings said. “Nobody is above the law, not even the president.”

Then he walked out to the crowd of high school students and volunteers. About a dozen of them were members of the Elijah Cummings Youth Program, the 21-year-old nonprofit that introduces African-American teens to their Jewish counterparts. The course runs two years and sends each student on a summer trip to Israel. Back home, they meet monthly and discover that Jewish and African-American cultures share a history of persecution.

“A lot of the things that the Jewish community goes through are similar to the African-Americans,” said Austen Roberson, 17, an African-American student at Howard High School in Ellicott City.

City Councilman Zeke Cohen briefly spoke to the teens, but Cummings gave the keynote address. The 13-term Democrat drew national attention last month for his impassioned speech following the congressional questioning of Michael Cohen, former attorney for the president.

In wide-ranging remarks, Cummings spoke of how he valued opinions from younger generations. In his committee, he sought out freshman Democratic members of Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

“I wanted their fresh thinking,” he said. “We have to work with our young people so they can take our places.”

He told the students they won’t ever fail if they chase their passions. Consider this, he said: His own parents had a fourth-grade education; he himself was enrolled in special education. He told them his place in American politics is a long way from an inauspicious youth.

“I never imagined it, never imagined it!” he said. “I have to pinch myself sometimes when I hear Trump talking about me. I know [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s got me in his Rolodex.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

tprudente@baltsun.com

twitter.com/tim_prudente

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