#SWAAYthenarrative

What Would My Late Husband Elijah Cummings Say About The Current State Of Our Country?

5 Min Read
Politics

As cities burn and protestors storm streets across America in reaction to the ongoing slaughter of Black and Brown people by law enforcement, many have asked what my late husband, Congressman Elijah Cummings, would say in this moment. I think he would urge protesters to focus on what they are fighting for and not fall into the trap of letting anger and destructive actions distract from their goal.

As shown when he walked the streets of Baltimore with protesters during the Freddie Gray unrest in 2015, Elijah deeply respected the First Amendment freedom of expression and right to protest. After all, the reason he was standing on that intersection during that particular moment was to prevent potentially chaotic and violent clashes between the police in riot gear and the irate mostly Black male protesters whose pent-up frustrations with law enforcement threatened to boil over. As a Black man in America who grew up in a segregated and deeply unequal Baltimore, Elijah understood their pain.

I'm convinced that we will only survive and thrive as a nation if we honestly focus on addressing racism as one of the root issues that drive our politics and policies.

He knew that after centuries of oppression, young African Americans especially want the freedom to live in a society where they aren't targeted based on race, gender, and class, where their opportunities to pursue their dreams and live their best lives aren't undermined by what they look like, how much money is in their pockets or what zip code they live in; and where the rules that govern their lives aren't arbitrarily determined by a corrupt system.

He was haunted during one night of the unrest when a young man told him, "I feel like I wake up in a coffin every morning and I spend my day trying to claw my way out." While he was deeply appreciative of the window of opportunity that opened for him after Baltimore schools were integrated in the early 1960s, he knew that window had closed for too many other youths growing up in today's hyper-segregated and impoverished Baltimore neighborhoods.

This knowledge drove him to do everything in his power to serve as a bridge to opportunity and inspiration for youth, whether it was through his Elijah Cummings Youth Program, scholarships, job fairs, speeches, legislation, or direct school interventions like when he took Baltimore's Maritime Academy under his wing.

While he would have spoken out against the violence and theft, he would have stood in solidarity with those protesting for justice, the right to have Black lives valued and respected, to be heard, and for positive change.

And yet, as many times as the nation has experienced the predictable pattern of outrage and protest following every recorded incident of state-sanctioned violence, the response remains largely unchanged. Authorities often conspire to excuse, defend, and cover up the actions of police perpetrators. If it's bad enough, they offer a program or fig leaf of policy reform that ends up changing nothing.

This suggests that when rotten apples are bunched together with fresh apples, the good apples can go bad, too.

We know that first hand here in Baltimore. When Marilyn Mosby, the city's then newly-elected and progressive State's Attorney, tried to prosecute the officers involved in Freddie Gray's death, she was threatened, maligned, and eventually dropped all charges against the officers involved saying that the police department actively worked to thwart her investigation. Efforts like One Baltimore, a program that was designed to channel resources, talent, and good will into transformative, cross-sector initiatives benefitting Baltimore's youth, were short-lived (full disclosure: I wrote the strategic plan for One Baltimore, in consultation with a small group of advisors that included Elijah, and handed it to then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake to implement)

And yet, we maintain hope despite record homicide rates and accusations of a police slowdown in the wake of Freddie Gray. Elijah and I were encouraged by the Obama Justice Department's 2016 report revealing unconstitutional policing practices within the Baltimore Police Department and thought its subsequent mandate to institute a consent decree to oversee of the department's operations was the right thing to do. When Trump took office and his Justice Department made moves to roll back the consent decree, Elijah coordinated a letter from Maryland's federal delegation to then newly-elected Mayor Catherine Pugh urging her to follow through on its full implementation. He knew increased oversight and guardrails on police operations were the only paths forward.

Something else that gave us hope was the federal government's successful prosecution of nine (and counting) members of the Baltimore Policy Department's Gun Trace Task Force, in which police officers were revealed to have stolen money from, sold drugs to, framed, and extorted both criminals and innocent civilians alike. This ongoing investigation not only challenges the popular framing of corrupt cops as just "a few rotten apples," it suggests that when rotten apples are bunched together with fresh apples, the good apples can go bad too.

That means confronting and dismantling the systemic corruption that serves to protect and defend injustice, greatly accelerating the glacier pace of police and criminal justice reforms, and advancing "bold, structural change" to improve the lives of those who have been historically marginalized.

Ultimately, the level of destruction and chaos we are seeing in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing and the incendiary response from Donald J. Trump, would have led Elijah to repeat his popular refrain, "We're better than this!" which meant that on both societal and individual levels we know better and can be better if we just do better. That means confronting and dismantling the systemic corruption that serves to protect and defend injustice, greatly accelerating the glacier pace of police and criminal justice reforms, and advancing "bold, structural change" to improve the lives of those who have been historically marginalized.

I'm convinced that we will only survive and thrive as a nation if we honestly focus on addressing racism as one of the root issues that drive our politics and policies. Despite being a country founded for and by white men –– most of whom never imagined defining women and people of color as fully equal human beings –– our nation has become a pluralistic, multi-cultural society where people of all backgrounds have gained social and political rights (at least on paper) and have an established and legitimate ownership stake in our nation.

As such, the ability to understand, navigate, and respect people of different backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures is now a strategic, democratic imperative that must be understood and honored by our society, including elected officials and public servants of all stripes at every level of government.

How to Learn Much More From the Books You Read

It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.

Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.

Read with a Purpose

Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.

Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.

Pre-Read

When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.

Highlight

Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.

Speed Read

You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.

Quality Reading

Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.

Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.

Summarize

If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.

Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.