Elijah Cummings: Thoughts from Washington Adventist University's President on the Congressman and Civil Rights Leader's Life and Legacy

As the nation mourns the recent loss of Elijah Cummings, and celebrates the life and legacy of the U.S. House of Representatives for Maryland's 7th Congressional District and honored civil rights leader, Washington Adventist University's president, Weymouth Spence, shares his thoughts on — and takeaways from — Cummings' leadership and legacy in an interview with Richard Castillo, vice president for Integrated Marketing and Communication for WAU.

Question: What aspect of Elijah Cummings' life do you relate to?

Answer: Elijah Cummings, like other leaders in the civil rights movement, came from meager beginnings. I feel as though I relate to their stories. I came to the United States from Jamaica and learned this country’s history. I learned about the struggle for equality, fairness — and the struggle to get access to education. The non-violent aspect of civil disobedience has motivated me in a couple ways. One: learning how the fight for equality happened and how it has affected the country and my peers. Two: how their struggle has given me opportunity by making my path, and the generations that will follow, smoother.

Is there an inspirational aspect to seeing someone such as Cummings rise in leadership and greatly effect those under his leadership?

His example strongly demonstrates that education is a pathway to success. It’s not necessarily about a degree. It’s about the education you gain from the influence of others. You must recognize that knowledge is power. It isn’t about being in a position, but knowing how to apply your education and wisdom the way that he and many civil rights leaders did. Many of them supported a strong educational pathway, whether from a skill level, a vocation, or higher education. I strongly believe that getting educated and surrounding yourself with people who have strong support for education, from early education through a college education, is a pathway to success.

Elijah Cummings came from Baltimore, Maryland, lived amongst the hardest hit citizens of the inner city and walked, arm-in-arm, singing with the people of Baltimore after Freddy Grey's death in 2015. Describe how is that a motivator for you, as you are on the ground with your students, faculty and staff on a regular basis.

What Cummings did is strong evidence of effective leadership: being among the people you lead. Jesus offered the example of always being in the community, with the people, having passion for the people. That’s what Elijah Cummings demonstrated and that’s what has influenced my style of leadership. I want to be among the students, playing with them on the softball field, at a recital, or with our students at commencement. I want to pat them on the back when they are doing well and support them. I told one young man after a soccer game, “Don’t let them get in your head. You play your game. They’re gonna do what they do. You stay in control.” Being there, among the students has a strong influence as you exemplify good behavior.

What is something that you see in Cummings' legacy that you would want reflected in your own?

He was firm about fairness, integrity, and honesty in his leadership style. He went out of his way recently to use his position wisely as he led a committee in the House of Representatives that provides oversight for the executive branch. He sought justice and used the system to obtain the fairness that we all expect as Americans. I’d like to make sure that every decision I make takes input from all aspects of the community and then allows me to make the right decision, even if it is unpopular. I believe the legacy of the decision will demonstrate that overall it may have been a tough decision, but the right decision.

How are you taking the example of other black leaders in the community and making a difference in your own?

President Obama and I started our presidencies at relatively the same time. I saw the positive and negative reactions to his leadership. His example inspired me to use my leadership to influence and help others to achieve their goals. Not to swing a heavy bat over people, but to use power for the disadvantaged. I want to use my influence to enhance the growth of people I serve; whether it’s students, parents, faculty, or staff. I believe when people succeed, institutions succeed. I believe family is the foundation of the world. The family becomes the society, the society becomes the country, the country becomes the world. These units are areas where we want our university to make a difference as we serve our communities, and fulfill our mission.

What is one aspect of Elijah Cummings' life that you would offer one of your students?

Be level headed, do not retaliate evil for evil, but overcome evil with good (see Rom. 12:21).

This interview was first published on the North American Division website. The original version can be found here, on the Washington Adventist University website. It is reprinted here with permission.

Image courtesy of WAU.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9964

Elijah Cummings was a great man. He understood the basics of basics of Democracy and decency. A great human being. Will miss his much needed voice in Congress.


I had not heard about Elijah Cummings, regrettably, until his recent death. Everyone that I have heard speak about his life had nothing but good to say…which is such a very rare thing in politics. May his legacy of service and statesmanship continue to inspire others to follow in his footsteps.

Rest in peace, Elijah…


Sadly, some people just don’t get to live long enough. Elijah Cummings was a beacon of hope for all of us. His humility and authenticity spoke volumes about what is lacking in our leaders today. His eloquence was based on scripture and the example of loving parents. The words of his daughter regarding her father speak for themselves.


I don’t wish to be negative, but was not his district in Baltimore the one that was so bad off? Abandoned homes, trash everywhere etc.? Did he really help his constituents?


Nice try again Allen, but…
Trying to denigrate the man based on the condition of a city? Just to be clear, he was not the mayor, he was a House representative. A very decent man by the way. I will miss his speeches and talking in the Congress. A giant for Democracy.


Seriously, Allen…how could your comment be anything but negative? :thinking:


Let’s see if any of Trump’s fan here will denounce this kind of disgusting, gross, and medieval behavior. Just curious. Or will they just stay quiet?

Randy, do you think someone here may actually even praise that radio host? :open_mouth:

Rather… “When the dead is at rest, let his remembrance rest; and be comforted for him, when his Spirit is departed from him.”


I don’t want to pile on, but I will in this case. Have you no decency? The man is dead, his family and friends are grieving, and you say something like this? It would be better left unsaid. :cry:


What a despicable, detestable, and uncouth eulogy.


I looked into the 7th district. There were a lot of abandon houses etc. People are leaving the city, so there are too many rentals, and no clients. The city is demolishing them as quickly as it can.

Here is a comment by a former citizen:

"So some parts of Baltimore are nice and some people there have good incomes. So what? President Trump was tweeting about the filthy and rodent-infested parts of Cummings’ district. I know they exist, I lived in Baltimore. Huge parts of Baltimore definitely fit the President’s description.

But there were many that came to the mans defense. The place seems a mixed bag. He has been there for decades. The mayor may be more responsible, or there may be others who are. But to be a leader there for decades and not be somewhat responsible is irresponsible.

You know, if Trump died, you guys would be dancing in the streets. And the black unemployment rate is the lowest ever. Ever! So… maybe your criticism is a bit misplaced.

And no, I don’t think God killed Cummings. I think that is disgusting too.

I quit Allen. If you don’t see how gross your approach is, there is nothing else I can say to you on this.


I’m glad you know me so well. I would not. I would keep silent, completely silent. I think it best that you refrain from judging what I might or might not do.


"What a despicable, detestable, and uncouth eulogy."

I didn’t write this, Allen…perhaps you should address it with them.

"But there were many that came to the mans defense. The place seems a mixed bag. He has been there for decades. The mayor may be more responsible, or there may be others who are. But to be a leader there for decades and not be somewhat responsible is irresponsible."

Allen, you really seem to be looking for something to say that is negative. Could this be because Mr. Cummings was a Democrat? Please remember that I am truly am a Centrist/Libertarian and am commenting from this position. I don’t believe that the same can be said about you.

Okay…let’s say that there is some truth to your statement. However, it is small negative drop in the bucket of praise for the man who clearly did more good than bad.


Scary to think that Allen is actually a Pastor…I wonder if he would be eulogizing anyone else this way.

Okay, I will answer my own question…I seriously doubt it.


Why do so many SDA’s support Trump, despite his immorality?
America’s long history of slaveholder religion makes clear that the faith of Trump’s preachers is not new. But it is also not the only faith in this land. Writing in the 19th century, when slaveholder religion was still taking root in white Americans’ consciousness,

Frederick Douglass said, “Between the Christianity of the slaveholder and the Christianity of Christ, I see the widest possible difference.”
Slavery went away, but this peculiar American faith did not. President Rutherford B. Hayes removed federal troops from the South in 1877. By 1896, “separate but equal” was the law of the land. A celebrated preacher of the early 20th century, Thomas Dixon, wrote a bestselling novel glorifying the Ku Klux Klan as champions of morality; by 1915, it was a major motion picture, The Birth of a Nation .

In America’s Gilded Age, slaveholder religion went national, blessing an alliance between industrial capital and white nationalism. When corporate tycoons lost credibility after the Great Depression, members of the national Chamber of Commerce paid The Birth of a Nation director D.W. Griffith’s pastor, the Rev. James Fifield, [to popularize a 20th-century version of slaveholder religion] that blessed the market and cursed those who preached a Social Gospel. Like the Redemption movement of the previous century, this campaign for “One Nation Under God” promised to save America from the “immorality” of the New Deal, Communism and the Civil Rights movement.

The faith that drove Douglass and thousands of others to risk all in the fight for abolition has also been passed down, one generation to the next, in the American story. Preachers like Sojourner Truth and J.W. Hood rallied the faithful to fight for Reconstruction after the Civil War, just as Social Gospelers were motivated by a moral vision, and the Civil Rights movement was sustained by the preaching of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the freedom songs that flowed out of Southern churches into the streets and jails.

If slaveholder religion is still with us in the 21st century, the moral force of this other tradition is with us as well. To distinguish between the two is to make clear that people of faith have a choice to make. Faith that props up extremism isn’t the only religion in our public life, but our history makes clear that slaveholder religion will dominate unless Adventists who are people of faith are willing to put ourselves on the line to insist on a better way.


"Why do so many SDA’s support Trump, despite his immorality?"

Great question. I cannot speak for all of the SDAs that are pro-Trump…but I will give it a shot:

(1) Because there have been other US Presidents that have been “immoral” in many of the same ways-both Dem and Rep. Evangelicals love Trump to push some of their “Christian” agendas.

(2) Because there are those who will always be Conservative or Liberal despite all “logic” (sometimes morality/ethics). There are no differences that I have seen between religion or politics in this regard.

(3) Our society is highly polarized and political rhetoric is fueling this (same as in the SDA Church).

(4) I see that Post Modernism and Secularism is growing in the US. Religion and religious views are not having the clout that they used to…this scares the conservative religionist who looks for a President who bolsters their faith.

"Faith that props up extremism isn’t the only religion in our public life, but our history makes clear that slaveholder religion will dominate unless Adventists who are people of faith are willing to put ourselves on the line to insist on a better way."

Perhaps…but those personalities that started Adventism are not those who now run the show. I have lost faith that the current Administration has the intestinal fortitude to care much about the state of our country other than “Preaching the Gospel” a la Last Generation Theology. As in politics…so goes religion.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment and observations. This is just my brief take…


Allen, remember, when you find yourself in a hole, quit digging.


Cincerity, Thank you…your comments were helpful and logical. You have given me much to consider.


You been drinking at the DJT Fountain again, Allen? Cuz I swear this has been tweeted before… :wink: