Thank you Mary Ann Mears, Bob Embry, Lois Feinblatt, Jed Dietz, and Elizabeth Embry for throwing such a fabulous party for “American Village.” More than a hundred incredible people packed into the Mears-Embry house. We screened an eight minute portion of the film. As the lights came back on Congressman Cummings rose to speak. His words brought our project into razor-sharp focus. It was an evening we will never forget.
On Monday, Congressman Elijah Cummings sat down with us for an interview in Baltimore. He told us about moving to Edmondson Village in the early 60s. His family was the second black family to buy a house on his block. When they first arrived at their new house, they gathered to pray in the front yard. A policeman drove by and stopped them, thinking that they were protesting. Cummings had witnessed first-hand an encounter that spoke to the suspicions that many of his neighbors held. Within 2 years, he remembers, the white families were gone. For him, it was an incredible time. A larger house, a yard, access to good schools. The racist city policies that made it impossible for so many black families to make it to the middle class were finally being fought. In ten years he would be in law school.
But I think there is another reason why the Congressman agreed to be in our film and why our 10 minute slot with him turned into almost an hour. About a month ago, Cummings’ nephew was murdered. A college student, a smart kid, none of it makes any sense. Cummings is devastated, his mind rattles with endless questions. Did he suffer? Did he have time to say a prayer? Who did it? A giant hole has opened up in his heart and who knows when it will be filled and what it will all mean. It was almost forty years ago that my grandfather was murdered and still, those endless questions rattle through our heads, the hole still feels like a gaping hole.
It breaks my heart thinking about what brought me and the Congressman together. And yet, being with him in his grief, and sharing the story of my grandfather, it’s never been more clear to me that we need to try to understand why these things happen. And to move forward and create life from death.
…of the event. (That’s us in the last shot!)