Frances (Toni) Murphy Draper
AFRO CEO and Publisher
Baltimore is a unique city. It’s a city of firsts. It’s a city of neighborhoods. It’s a city of distinct landmarks. It is a city of tremendous pride. It is a city where many residents are defined not by where or if they went to a particular college; not by where they work or what they do; not by who they know; but by where they went to high school. It’s also a city where the ability to elect African-American political leadership engenders a sense of great pride. And, a city where those leaders are expected to not only represent the community but are expected to represent the community with great dedication, competence, integrity and follow through.
Growing up in a newspaper family afforded me the opportunity to meet many politicians and thought leaders– those elected and those who represented communities whether or not they had an official title. My grandfather, Carl Murphy, often invited those leaders to his home and, if we (his grandchildren) promised to “disappear into the woodwork,” we could listen for a few minutes. Grandfather Carl also was known to “summon” leaders to the AFRO office on Eutaw Street to “talk about” who to get elected from our community and how to make it happen. Carl Murphy died in 1967, so I’m not sure whether or not he knew a young Elijah Cummings. I don’t know if he knew that Elijah had an AFRO paper route from 1960-1964 or that Elijah credited that route with being his introduction to the work world. But, as Elijah wrote in his foreword to the AFRO’s recently released book, “The Thing I Love About Baltimore”: “Throughout my entire life, the AFRO American exemplified all that is important and good in our community—as I learned personally at an early age. It was the paper’s long-time president, Mr. John Oliver Sr., who was in charge of the production department and gave me my first job delivering the paper—and who encouraged me to attend college. “
AFRO’s publisher and CEO, Dr. Frances M. Draper. (Courtesy Photo)
Elijah Cummings always reminded you of where he came from and who helped him to achieve every milestone in his life. “Only in a compassionate, dynamic place like Baltimore— a place filled with giving people like Ms. Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Mr. Walter Black, “Captain” Jim Smith, my best teacher, Mr. Hollis Posey, and all the librarians at the South Baltimore Pratt Library – could a poor Black child who began in special education be transformed into a member of the Congress of the United States,” he wrote. The Honorable Elijah Cummings was proud of his heritage and eager to share his journey—especially with young people.
I can’t remember the exact day or place where I met Elijah Cummings, but he made me feel as if I’d known him forever. He wasn’t too busy or too important to stop and say, “Hello”, “How’s it going?” He was a man who was not afraid to passionately share his convictions and his viewpoints. He was also a man deeply grounded in his faith.
For nearly 20 years, Congressman Cummings and I served together on the Morgan State University Board of Regents. In spite of his incredibly busy schedule, especially in the last few years, he seldom missed a board meeting either in person or on the phone. He was a member of the executive committee and chaired the audit committee. In typical Cummings style, he was thoroughly prepared and he thoughtfully listened to the many topics for discussion. But, also typical Cummings style, when he had digested the issue at hand and heard the pros and cons, he was quick to say in his booming baritone voice, “Mr. Chairman, I move…” or “Mr. Chairman, let’s move on; it’s clear what we need to do.” I can only remember one time that he and I were on the opposite side of a particular issue. In the end, we each voted our own conscience and afterwards, I reached out to him to say that “although we agreed to disagree this time, all is well.” “Indeed, it is,” he replied. “I appreciate people,” he added, “who stand by their convictions based on fact and not emotions.” Well said, Mr. Congressman.
A man of great integrity and a champion for the people of Baltimore and beyond, Congressman Cummings spoke at our church, Freedom Temple AME Zion, at least three times. Each time, he reminded us of his humble beginnings, his parents’ sacrifices, his achievements in spite of what others said, and his dedication to his city and his constituents. He seemed especially happy that our congregation included so many young people and often spoke directly to them. “Young people,” he once said with one fist in the air, “don’t ever let anybody tell you what can’t be done; what you can’t do; who you can’t become. You are created in God’s image and likeness and have a bright future ahead of you, if you want it. But, nobody’s going to just give it to you. It takes hard work. It takes focus. It takes a determination to finish in spite of the odds. And, if I could do it, so can you. You may not become a Congressman or a Congresswoman, but I have every confidence that you can become the best you that you can, because we need you to continue the work that I and others have started.”
In December of 2018 my husband Andre and I received an invitation from Elijah E. Cummings and Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings to a January 3, 2019 Open House Reception in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee Room. Our hearts burst with pride as we saw his name emblazoned as the chair of such a powerful committee. With deep humility, he thanked his guests for coming, took a few pictures and reiterated his commitment to unashamedly upholding the rights of the American people. At that gathering, he also agreed to serve as a board member of AFRO Charities, the non-profit arm of this newspaper. “You can send someone from your staff, if you’d like,” I said. “I might do that, “he replied, “but my intention is to serve.”
Elijah Eugene Cummings, Congressman Cummings, Chairman Cummings: Thank you for your faith, your fortitude and most of all your friendship. Thank you for your many years of support of this newspaper, especially your thoughtful columns and commentaries. I will always remember you as a man of your word and a man who remembered your roots in spite of how high you climbed. May you rest in peace and in power.
Frances (Toni) Murphy Draper
CEO and Publisher