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Congressman Elijah Cummings extended his life of service to Year Up graduates

Congressman Elijah Cummings extends his life of service to Year Up
Congressman Elijah Cummings extends his life of service to Year Up
Photo by Professor Metze

Today 27 young men and women became the most recent graduates of the Year Up program in a ceremony that was highlighted by a passionate keynote address by the ranking member of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

In a speech that gave the young adults a sense of the struggles he overcame to become the representative for Maryland's 7th Congressional District in 1996, Congressman Cummings told the 2014 graduates that regardless of what job they started out doing; they should do that job with the utmost care and professionalism. "I started out washing pots, but I went to an extraordinary pot washer, my mother, and asked her how to do my job well. She gave me billo pads and latex gloves and I became a great pot washer," Cummings said.

Cummings connected with his youthful audience by making references to popular culture that they could readily understand. For example, he referred to a young woman who has captivated the nation with her most recent CD. "I like Beyonce," the congressman said. "All of her songs on the CD are good. But I like the one where she is asked a question about her aspirations. When asked what she aspired to be. She said she aspired to be happy," Cummings said.

Cummings said that Knowles response is important because people think that money will make them happy. "I came by here to tell you that it is not all about money." To illustrate his point, Cummings talked about his chief role in serving as President Barack Obama's lawyer and the 30 plus lawyers who work with him. "I have lawyers who normally make $350,000 thousand dollars a year. They come to me to serve and I explain they can only make $100,000 tops. They still want to serve. The need to help the nation and to make a contribution to society was more important drawing large salaries," he said.

As he spoke to the graduating class in the packed auditorium at Baltimore Community College the faces of the Year Up graduates reflected respect for his nearly 20 year career as a United States Congressman; however, Cummings did not rely on his past achievements to reach the audience. He pointed out that one of his greatest joys in life was to be able to help his daughter in her goals and education. "When I write the check it makes me happy because she is awesome," Cummings said to the cheering and approving crowd.

The 2014 Year Up graduates all dressed immaculately in their business suits and ties were clearly prepared to take their place on the ladder of corporate success. The lessons in hard work and determination were not missing from the set of tools that Year Up had prepared for their future. To the graduates that included Whitney Adams, Kierra Alsup, Sharday Bell, Edward Blackstone, Micheal Burrell, Brandon Clark, Shameek Dancil, Devin Gamble, Joel Gregory, Tiffany Gathers, Phillip Freeman, George Halkis, Christopher Jackson, Ryan Jackson, Kiante James, Mario Johnson, Jr., London Lincoln, Isaiah Morris, Cherneice Queen, Aleya Sims, Bridgette Smith, Jordan Stell, Emanuel Stevenson, Samara Green-Taylor, Ray Wagstaff, Keyon Williamson, and William McLain, listened to one of the most powerful men in congress with the attention that internships with some of the greatest corporations in America has taught them.

Those corporations include AOL, Arbitron/Nielson Audio, ASR-Group (Domino), Carefirst Blue Cross/Blue Shield, M&T Bank, Morgan Stanley, T. Rowe Price, and the Harbor Bank of Maryland. The internships foster life long relationships between employers and interns. Cummings noted that the internships should be viewed as both a source of help to the interns; however, he also pointed out that the interns bring much to the companies and the companies benefit from their association with the interns.

The Year Up program in Baltimore is a model for the nation. Former President Bill Clinton praised the program for the leadership skills that the program instills in Year Up graduates. However, the success and exposure that the program enjoys today was not present only 14 years ago as founder and CEO Gerald Chertavian began his work in creating a program that would give urban youth the exposure and connections to make them successful in corporate life in America.

The company that helped Year Up in its startup phrase was Alta Communications in New York City. The company provided office space, mentors, administrative resources, guest presenters, and financial support. The executives at Alta Communications were David Retik and Chris Mello. They inspired young people and offered their leadership when Year Up needed it most. Tragically, both Retik and Mello were killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. In memory of Retik and Mello Year Up established two awards to honor achievement by Year Up graduates. The awards are the David Retik Award for Excellence and the Chris Mello Award for Leadership.

Lisette Nieves, the founding Executive Director of Year Up New York, sat down with the present writer for an interview following the 2013 graduation. She predicted that the Year Up program would grow because the intense need in the urban youth population for education and direction. Since that interview the Year Up program has been featured on the 60 Minutes program on CBS and has been the subject of national news stories across the nation. However, like Nieves in New York City, each Year Up program has a director with a driving passion to help young people. In Baltimore that director is Lameteria Hall.

It has been three years since Hall first explained her plans for the Year Up program. Her passion for the young people in her program is just as intense today as it was three years ago. By recruiting a staff that includes Latonya Hines, Anthony Larkins, Scott Robertson, and Walter Reaves, Hall said she has put together a first class team of professionals who work together to give the students in the Year Up program the best possible experience. The corporate sponsors are vital to the program and Hall works hard to cultivate the relationships that provide the Year Up participants with internships that create lifelong connections, "I earned an Internship at Morgan Stanley where I had the opportunity to work with an amazingly intelligent team in Position Services specializing in Mandatory Corporate Actions. This year long adventure was challenging yet rewarding and for that, I would not trade this entire experience for anything in the world," said one Year Up grad.

If a corporation is looking for a program that will provide interns and support there are few programs that offer the unique blend of promising urban professionals in the making and a formula of proven success. Year Up works on many levels and this is still a developing story.

Stay tuned.