Elijah Cummings Youth Program alumni speak about their experiences
The Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel, which the Maryland congressman created in 1999, brings hundreds of African-American teenagers to the Jewish state each year as part of a two-year program that seeks to build bridges between the African-American and Jewish communities.
Jewish Insider reached out to program alumni to share their experiences.
“I was a member of the inaugural class of the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel. His office, in cooperation with the Baltimore Jewish Council, sponsored a small group of mostly African-American teens’ visit to Israel. Some of the most fulfilling experiences in my life happened during those four weeks in 1998 because I did what Congressman Cummings asked us, when he came to see us off at the airport: to stretch ourselves and to open our minds and our hearts. When we returned, Congressman Cummings encouraged me to attend Howard University. I did that, too. Over the last couple of years, Congressman Cummings made sure that I (and others) knew how proud of me he was. I regret that I never told the congressman that I was proud of him, too. I am proud of how he served our city — proud of how he served our country.”
– Victor Blackwell, CNN news anchor
“To me, ECYP is all about giving students a chance to develop their leadership skills while also granting them the experience of a lifetime. When I applied to be an ECYP fellow I never assumed that I would’ve been able to have half of the experiences that the program ended up providing me with. Because of ECYP I got the chance to explore the intricate relationship between two communities and go abroad for the first time. Through the program I also forged bonds that I believe will last a lifetime. I honestly don’t think I would be who I am today without ECYP and Congressman Elijah Cummings and for that I’ll always be grateful.”
– Erik Anderson II, University of Michigan, Class of 2021
“Congressman Cummings gave me and so many others the opportunity to learn about ourselves and others. The program is so much more than just a trip to Israel. It is creating life-long experiences and memories. My favorite memory from the program was the annual holiday toy drive; I loved working together with fellow ECYP members for a great cause. Mentoring students at KIPP Academy was another highlight of my experience in the program. Going to Israel was such a learning experience and something I will forever be grateful to Congressman Cummings for the countless opportunities and for believing in me. The impact he had on my life is indescribable and I will greatly miss him.”
–Dominique Byrd, ECYP Class of 2014
“When I was first chosen to participate in ECYP I had no idea what to expect but I knew somehow it would be an experience I would take with me for the rest of my life. Through this program I was able to meet lifelong friends, experience the world like I’d never seen it before and grow more within myself as a young woman. My trip to Israel allowed me to bridge the gap between the African-American and Jewish communities and revealed distinct similarities between the two. While some may think these communities have little in common, the reality is both parties have overcome so many obstacles throughout history that have enriched their customs, beliefs, and cultural practices. ECYP was not only an opportunity I am so grateful to have been apart of but it serves as a second family that will stand with me as I continue to travel on my path in life. Thank you for believing in me Rep. Cummings. You will truly be missed.”
– Bria Jenkins, ECYP Class of 2012
“What did Congressman Cummings mean to me? Well what does rain mean to plants? He was instrumental in not just my growth, but all of our growth. Life is not always easy or kind, especially growing up in Baltimore. There are plenty of pitfalls, but Congressman Cummings put us in a position to see things that most of our peers couldn’t begin to fathom. I remember being in Israel and visiting the border of Palestine. We met a man who was a barber by trade and his sons. I remember him telling us how they had a limited window of time that they were allowed to gather water from a well that was quite a distance away. He told us how hard life was and how little money he could earn. Yet this man sent his sons to the store to buy us sodas, a luxury his own children could not enjoy. There were lessons like this that gave our trip purpose and substance. Congressman Cummings was a great man of substance. He believed in pouring into the children in the community so that they could become the leaders of tomorrow. I have not yet met my own potential and I have fallen short but Congressman Cummings often times pushed me to pick myself up, dust myself off, and continue climbing mountains. He taught me that the fight is not over until I can no longer get up. I will forever be grateful for this giant amongst men and his legacy will always live in my heart.”
–Danielle Sheppard, ECYP Alum c/o 2000