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The Leadership of Congressman Elijah Cummings: raceAhead

October 17, 2019, 6:22 PM UTC

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Congressman Elijah Cummings has died.

Cummings was a giant figure, a towering presence for civil rights, and a tireless defender of his beloved Baltimore. He died earlier today of an undisclosed illness. He was 68. 

His widow, Maryland Democratic Party Chair Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, released a statement, saying,

“Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility. He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem. It has been an honor to walk by his side on this incredible journey. I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly.”

Baltimore’s WBAL notes that he was a fixture in Baltimore politics, but had developed a national presence as the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and most recently for standing up to the insults lobbed at him by President Trump, who tweeted that Cummings’ district is a “rat- and rodent-infested mess.” 

But Cummings himself recently said that his leadership role in the February hearing with Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney, would form a crucial part of his legacy. “I will pray that God takes us to a higher ground,” Cummings said.

There will be many stories and tributes to come, and I encourage you to savor them all.

For now, I will point you to his first-ever floor speech, delivered on April 25, 1996 and which included a poem he lived by. It earned him long applause then, and it gives me pause now.

“I only have a minute, only 60 seconds in it. Forced upon me, I didn’t choose it, but I know that I must use it. Give account if I abuse it, suffer if I lose it. Only a tiny little minute, but eternity is in it.

And so I join you as we move forward to uplift not only the nation, but the world.

May God bless you all and may God bless America.”

On Point

Alice Walker speaks out on homophobic comments made by 'The Color Purple' actor Oluwaseyi "Semi" Omooba was set to play Celie in the U.K. stage version of the production, until it was revealed that she’d made anti-gay comments on social media. She was fired and is now suing for religious discrimination. Author Alice Walker has weighed in, and in the process, shared the emotional basis of Celie, who falls in love with another woman. She ends with this: "Playing the role of Celie while not believing in her right to be loved, or to express her love in any way she chooses, would be a betrayal of women’s right to be free," she said. Shadow and Act

Dealing with 'unpredictable' work schedules A survey of 30,000 hourly workers, conducted by the Shift Project, shows that irregular schedules have a negative impact on those who have to deal with them—which are mainly people of color. Not only do these erratic schedules cause instability for the workers and their families (complicating the ability to obtain child care, housing, proper sleep), but it leaves them with "serious deprivation from relentlessly unstable paychecks," says Daniel Schneider, who worked on the project. And it's largely "because managers gave worse shifts to employees who weren’t white," says the New York Times. Only 38% of nonwhite workers had a nonwhite manager (compared to 80% of white workers who had white managers)—and the survey showed a correlation between job quality and having a manager of a different race.  
New York Times

Ken Fisher under fire for shocking remarks at private CEO summit The billionaire CEO of Fisher Investments has now been barred from attending the Tiburon CEO Summit, a private conference for wealth management CEOs after attendees complained about remarks he made on stage which appear to include comparing his investment strategy to picking up “on a girl,” tripping on acid, genitalia, sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, and his belief that “charities are immoral.” Three attendees went public with their disgust, breaking the rules since the content was not about business. “I chose to speak out because maintaining a culture of silence around harassment and assault protects those who abuse their power, which then further marginalizes underrepresented groups,” says Sonya Dreizler, a speaker and consultant to financial services firms. Attendee Alex Chalekian posted a lengthy video recapping the experience.
The Washington Post

On Background

Here’s how to fix capitalism and spur innovation Mariana Mazzucato has become known as one of the most influential economists in the world, by focusing her studies on an area of tremendous interest: the economics of innovation and the high tech industry. That expertise gives her capitalism-saving idea a real boost. Her plan? Stop with the austerity and encourage governments to invest. Google was an early beneficiary of an early grant from the National Science Foundation, similar grants provided early boosts to three of Elon Musk companies, including Tesla. Her paper on the subject seems to have touched a nerve. “It wasn’t just early research, it was also applied research, early stage finance, strategic procurement,” she says. “The more I looked, the more I realised: state investment is everywhere.”
Wired UK

Meet the Tuskegee Airman from the Dominican Republic There are plenty of Afro-Latinx figures who have been lost to history, so many, in fact, that The Root has created a very cool series about them“Mi Gente Afrodescendiente,” or “My People of African Descent.” Esteban Hotesse was the only Dominican member of the Tuskegee Airmen, and became one of the organizers of the Freeman Field Mutiny, after a group of pilots of color who entered a white officers club on a military base in Indiana entered, against orders,  to protest racial segregation in the armed forces. Orange is the New Black actor and Dominican native Dascha Polanco narrates this short video.
The Root

How the U.S. stole thousands of Native American children They were taken by missionaries, taken into foster care, ripped from their families. Some were given up by parents who had believed it was the only way to save them. "Saving us from ourselves," says one woman in this wrenching video. The nineteenth century strategy for assimilating Native children was to strip them off their culture by taking them off the reservation into boarding schools, many of which were known for their abuse and cruelty. The twentieth century evolution of this strategy was to give them to white families. In this episode of Vox’s "Missing Chapter" series, Native Americans explain how these policies have impacted their communities.
Vox on YouTube


Tamara El-Waylly helps write and produce raceAhead.

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“When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked, in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?”

Congressman Elijah Cummings