What Congressman Elijah E. Cummings Meant To Me, A Political Newcomer

I know that my story and interactions with the late Congressman Elijah E. Cummings are not singular. I know that I join thousands of Americans in the mourning of his loss, and I know that the same spirit that touched me, touched too many to count. I know that on the day of his death, I was not the only person to shed a few tears.

The only way I can express how I feel about Congressman Cummings passing is through writing. Even then, I am not sure that by the time I am done with pouring out my thoughts and feelings on to this page, that I will have fully conveyed exactly what Congressman Cummings meant to me.

It was July 8th, 2016. I drove up to Orlando for one of the last DNC Platform Committee meetings. I made the drive because I was new to politics, and I wanted to network, meet elected officials, and understand the Democratic Party process. I remember I was talking to a staffer and they pointed out Congressman Cummings in the break room. At this point, I had no idea who Congressman Cummings was, but I was told he was an extremely important person. I walked into the room, pulled a chair up next to him, and introduced myself, a young teacher in South Florida trying to better understand our political system. He asked about my life and my background. I got to talk to him about my mother’s military service and how that led me to raise my sister while she defended our country. Then we talked about my desire to get involved in politics and what I hoped to achieve. He told me that I had a good spirit and he felt that I could do some good in this world. He said we should keep in touch so I could update him on my progress and we exchanged numbers. Before I left, I asked him if he could recommend a book for me to read. He recommended that I read Douglas Blackmon’s, “Slavery by Another Name.” I bought that book the next day.

In April 2017, I filed to run for Commissioner of Coral Springs, my home city and where I would go on to become the first African-American elected since the city’s incorporation. I reached out to the Congressman to ask for his support, and without hesitation, he became one of my biggest contributors all the way from Maryland. When I asked if he would endorse me, he asked me if I wanted him to fly down to Florida to endorse me during a campaign event, if I wanted a letter of support, or whatever I needed, he would take care of it. His donation was my first max contribution, and I will never forget that day I opened my mailbox and saw his letter. I texted him to let him know that I received his donation and he said he happy to help and that he believed in me. It was later that I found out he actually got the check sent while he was recovering from heart surgery. Even through his own pain, he still thought of me and took the time to reach out. We continued to stay in touch throughout the campaign, his experience and wisdom a consistent source of encouragement.

After my election in November, I called Congressman Cummings to check in on him, like I often did, and he told me how proud he was of me and how much he loved me. As someone who didn’t have a consistent father figure, his words spoke to my soul. He encouraged me and told me to never forget who I was fighting for. We did speak about the stress of everything happening in DC, but you would never be able to tell if it wore on him or if he was worried. His commitment to our country never wavered; he knew what his mission was.

The last time I physically got to see Congressman Cummings was this past January at his fundraiser in Miami. As a guest of honor, he was of course surrounded by people wanting to speak with him, but he still made time to catch up with me personally, even giving me a shout out during his speech. That’s the type of man he was, going out of his way to take care of people, make them feel seen and heard. He wanted to hear about my progress, and I wanted to know how he was handling his new immense responsibilities now that the Democrats were in control of the House. I did not know that would be the last time I would see him alive, and in hindsight I feel as if I should have asked more questions, taken more pictures, just done something more to memorialize the love we had for one another. I’m reminded today that we truly never know when an interaction with any person will be our last.

Congressman Cummings was my mirror. He was everything I want to be in this world. His fierce advocacy, his fire, his passion, he told me he saw himself in me, and I never intend to let him down. To say his death greatly impacts me is an understatement. I was a political newcomer when I met him, but he treated me like I was his family. He was on my wedding guest list. He spoke life into my purpose and to my heart, and he became my blueprint. My friends often joked about my campaign speeches because I would always find a way to sneak in that Congressman Cummings was one of my mentors, but that was no joking matter to me. He made a difference to so many around this world, and I know that I am not alone in the sorrow and loss that I feel in his death. No one will fill Congressman Cummings’ shoes, but the people he inspired and lifted up along the way is an army, and we will carry on his passion and defense of our future, our children, and our county. Rest in Power Congressman, we got this now.



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Joshua A. Simmons

Joshua A. Simmons

Joshua is a current Vice Mayor with the City of Coral Springs, FL. He is the first African-American to be elected since the city’s incorporation in 1963.