Banquet marks revival of NAACP Carroll group

Cummings, Mfume talk about unity, diversity

November 04, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Congressman Elijah E. Cummings paused during his remarks, took a look at the audience at the Carroll County NAACP's Freedom Fund Banquet on Friday evening in Westminster and read the lyrics to "We Shall Be Free," a song by county music star Garth Brooks.

Cummings had the 500 or so people on their feet and cheering.

"It is significant that white people are in this room. We must do something together as blacks and whites, and then we shall all be free," he said.

Cummings, an African-American Democrat representing Maryland's 7th Congressional District, stood at a lectern emblazoned with the seal of the county's branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and greeted fellow Congressman Roscoe G. Bartlett, who was in the audience.

The two men laughed heartily when Cummings said the pair of representatives rarely agree.

But he and Bartlett, the staunchly conservative Western Maryland Republican who represents Carroll in the House of Representatives, are resolved "to lift up the people of this nation," Cummings said.

He reminded the gathering that "everybody in this room has something to offer" - and he loudly demanded that the something must be offered to young people.

"They are crying out to us, saying, `Give us support,'" Cummings said. "If we are going to produce soldiers lifting up African-Americans and being part of a diverse world, we have to lift young people up."

The dinner and speeches - which the branch hopes to make an annual event - took place at Martin's-Westminster and was attended by Kweisi Mfume, NAACP president. When Mfume left Congress to become president of the nation's oldest civil rights organization in 1996, Cummings won the seat.

"Our lives are reflective of each other's," Cummings said. "As young people, we were so often told what we couldn't be. But we have taken that pain and frustration and turned it around, using it as a passport for other people. We are ordinary people called to an extraordinary mission."

Cummings told tales of a childhood dominated by loving parents and drew laughter from the crowd; his account of his father's death in June left some teary-eyed.

"It was a great speech and we need to listen," said Carroll County Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "I am glad I was here to hear these profound messages."

During a break, Mfume mingled with the crowd.

"It is a real treat for me to come out and support this branch," Mfume said. "There is a real cross-section here from all over the community. It shows that NAACP members come in all colors."

Mfume called for continued support for the Carroll branch and particularly for its leader, Phyllis Hammond Black, who last year began her effort to revive the county branch.

"Work with her where you can," Mfume said. "Surround her with your good graces so our work here does not go unnoticed."

Mfume and Cummings praised the spirit of unity in the country since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"The question is, after the danger is over, will we still be a united people?" Cummings asked. "We have to be, because our destinies are tied to each other."

Mfume said the attacks changed life for everyone and heightened the spirit of family and community.

"We are really one group of people, who for more than 200 years assembled under that flag," he said, pointing to a flag near the lectern. "We can heal the breach and deal with the serious problems that face our nation and leave a better legacy for all Americans.

"We must hold true to the promise that keeps us Americans. September 11th is not an end, but rather a beginning."

The evening ended with words of thanks from Black and a prayer by the Rev. Burton L. Mack that everyone leave "as lights to be blessed and to be blessings."

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