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In his death, Cummings' legacy as a mentor echoes loudest

Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

BALTIMORE -- When Congressman Elijah Cummings wrote a personal letter to the White House in 2013 recommending Keenen Geter for an internship there, he noted Geter's "passion for public service."

Geter, now 28 and a member of the advance team for Sen. Kamala Harris' presidential campaign, wasn't surprised. Passion was always part of the message when Cummings spoke with those he mentored -- especially young black men from Baltimore like Geter, who is from Park Heights.

"He would tell me, 'Keenen, through your pain, you will find your passion, and through your passion, you will find your purpose,'" Geter said Thursday morning, not long after learning of Cummings' death. "He understood that as a congressman, as an African American male, it was almost his duty, his responsibility, to care for our young people in Baltimore City."

"He said you can do anything and be anything you set your mind to."

As tributes poured in for Cummings, who died early Thursday morning, many of them made mention of what could be Cummings' most lasting legacy: not of congressman or House Oversight chairman or inquisitor to President Donald Trump, but of mentor and guide.

Cummings, 68, was a titan and kingmaker, in the same vein as other great civil rights leaders and black political leaders, not only for a generation of legislators and politicians in Maryland and throughout the halls of Congress, but also for an army of young men and women with aspirations to change Baltimore or reach beyond it, those who loved him said.

 

"If you've grown up in Baltimore and you're of my age, all of us have come into his orbit because we were his orbit. Young people in Baltimore were where he put his time and effort," said Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott, 35. "Before there was Barack Obama, there was Elijah Cummings."

So influential was Cummings that, when Scott was elected council president by his council peers in May, he said, Cummings was the first person he called.

"He was who I looked up to and emulated and wanted to build myself after," Scott said.

Cummings often spoke of leaving the world better for generations to come and his interest in offering a guiding hand to younger people reflected that.

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