When I rose to support the Democratic Party’s Platform at our National Convention in Philadelphia last week, I could not help thinking of my family’s long and continuing march from the fields of South Carolina through the factories of Baltimore – and onward toward the “One America” that should be every American’s dream.
I thought about my daughters, when they were younger, about teaching them that there will be no limit to what their vision, talents and hard work could achieve — and rededicating myself to making that promise a reality.
There in Philadelphia last week, I realized that our former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was about to exemplify that same empowering promise for all the capable young women in our country.
Equally important, the Democratic Party Platform that we adopted is the most progressive in our history, a prescription for constructive change in America that will expand the horizons of opportunity for my daughters and for all Americans.
With these poignant reflections lifting up my heart, I spoke to the Convention and the millions joining us at home about this national journey that we have been taking together.
I began by recalling my parents’ beginnings as sharecroppers on a farm in South Carolina where they had neither running water nor indoor toilet, but where their souls were filled with hope for an empowering education for their children and an America creed securely anchored in love of country and the nobility of helping others.
These interconnected values were at the center of all that our parents taught us.
My father, the late Robert Cummings, a man who left school after the fourth grade to plow the fields and pick the cotton, was one of the smartest people whom I have ever known. When I was young, he taught me that the true test of a man (or woman) is not how much we help ourselves in life — but whether we help those who are less fortunate than we.
“Son,” he told me, “you go to school to get blessed so that you can bless others.”
Six decades later, I told our Convention in Philadelphia, this is the same standard – the same bridge between our own sense of self-worth and our respect for the worth of others – that we Democrats continue to advance today.
It was the visionary and determined Americans in our Democratic Party who opened the doors of opportunity for me and millions of other children across this great country – who fought for desegregation, Head Start, good schools, and more affordable college.
It was Americans who had been blessed so that they could bless others who fought for and passed Social Security, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, who fought for the rights of workers and veterans, who made the dream of home ownership possible for millions of American families.
In 2016, it still is the people of our Democratic Party, our coalition of conscience and vision, who fight for civil rights and voting rights, who fully understand that when a person’s right to vote is denied, so also is their ability to shape their own destiny.
We continue on this journey toward “One America” together, united as Americans and as human beings, whatever our backgrounds, our race, our religion, our gender or the person we love may be.
Unified, we march together toward the land we were promised, understanding that “Black Lives must Matter,” to each of us as humane, civilized human beings, understanding that our diversity is not America’s problem but our greatest promise as a people.
Yet, we also recognize that the safety of the American People is also a civil right, and that our communities and law enforcement officers work best to uphold that fundamental right when we work together.
All of these reasons are why I am so gratified that our Democratic Platform has a visionary and practical agenda of economic empowerment, civil rights, the public’s health, and the protection of our environment at its core, addressing directly the challenges that are at the center of people’s lives.
I should also note that our Democratic Platform is not a document to gather dust on our shelves. Rather, it is a firm, public and irrevocable commitment to every citizen of our great nation — a blueprint of our vision for America and the standard for our accountability in the years to come. You can read it at demconvention.com/platform/.
I have shared these reflections with you, as I did in Philadelphia, because our nation, once again, is at a critical crossroads in our shared journey. We have reached a moment in our long history both of great promise and of considerable danger.
For our nation to choose the better (and, I would submit, essential) road in November, we all must be clear about the sharply contrasting futures at stake – and we must act accordingly.
My father, looking down on us from heaven, would commend the commitments that we have made, but he would also say to those of us who have been blessed that now is the time for us to bless others.
By our actions between now and Election Day 2016, he would remind us, we will be determining the future of our society for the generations of Americans yet to be born.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. He also served as Chair of the National Democratic Party’s 2016 Platform Drafting Committee.