Approximately one hundred and fifty guests of the Israeli Embassy and the Elijah Cummings Youth Leadership Program in Israel (ECYP) gathered in the lower level of the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center for a reception celebrating Black History Month on Wednesday.
NFL Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas of the Buffalo Bills, fresh off a recent trip to Israel this past summer with Patriots owner Bob Kraft, was the guest of honor.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer began his remarks by joking he’s ‘a die-hard Miami Dolphins’ fan’ and added later “that other than being a Buffalo Bill, Thurman is alright (laughter). “He even redeemed himself — there’s alway salvation in the end — by donning a Miami Dolphins uniform at the end of his career,” the Ambassador noted. Dermer continued, “Yeah you hide it (laughter), you hide it Thurman but I saw it and I’m gonna get a ‘yuuge’ poster of Thurman Thomas in a Dolphins uniform and I’m gonna put it up on the side of our embassy (laughter).”
On a more serious note, Dermer praised Rep. Elijah Cummings for his leadership and vision. “For nearly twenty years, Congressman Cummings has been the instrumental force behind this youth program that brings young African-American students from Baltimore to Israel,” he said. “I think it’s 12 students every year — 12, by the way, is a pretty good number in Israel — 12 tribes, 12 apostles – 12 is good. You can change the world with 12. And over nearly two decades, there have been some 200 students who have gone on that program.
Photo by Israel’s Embassy
Dermer explained, “There’s only one Ambassador to Israel in the United States at a time. But I know because of this program, every year, there are 12 other Ambassadors who are sitting in Baltimore, who have been to Israel, who are invested in the relationship with Israel, and serve really as ambassadors of goodwill for Israel. And I am confident that all of you would be leaders one day – in Baltimore or outside of Baltimore – and I know that you’ll work because of that experience that you have, because of the program that you have, to strengthen ties between Israel and the African-American community, between Israel and the United States, so that the great friendship between our two countries will continue to be growing stronger and deeper in the future.”
Congressman Cummings spoke next on the tremendous benefits of the program. “We have a 100% high school graduation rate, a 98% graduation from college in four years rate, hello?” he said to applause. “One of my favorite sayings is ‘our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see.’ There’s gonna come a time when you go off the scene. The things we stood for, the things we believed in, the things we cared about are going to be taken on into the future by our children.”
After listening to a young ECYP fellow describe the experience, Thurman Thomas spoke to close the program and related how inspired and motivated he is to start a similar program for kids in Buffalo and how this program could be replicated throughout the country.
Spotted: ECYP’s Founding Chairman Howard Friedman, Gary Ginsberg, Jordana Cutler, Rep. Ted Deutch, Rep. Donald Payne, Rep. Charlie Rangel, Rep. Nita Lowey, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Alma Adams, Rep. Jerry Nadler, Maryland State Delegate Keith Haynes, Department of Education General Counsel James Cole, Jr., Carla Farrington, Kathleen St. Villier, Patti Thomas, Yarden Golan, Aaron Segui, Dor Shapira, Clara Scheinmann, Jeff Mendelsohn, Marin Stein, Ron Kampeas, Kevin Johnson.