Who is John Cummings?
Life is a journey, when you get on the road you figure you would meet people along the way. I met my wife when she was 3 and it took 36 years for us to get our first date, we are now married for almost 20 years. You meet many people who move in and out and the journey s fun! God puts people in your way for a reason, and I think I met John specifically for a reason. I am a fan of his campaign. I met John on the first day of high school, almost 45 years ago. John was a friend I met along the way, and I thought I would take a moment to tell you about him from a non-political perspective, and from my personal perspective as well.
We both grew up in the Bronx during the 1960s & 1970s. Our neighborhood was racially mixed, and neither one of us could say we grew up “privileged”. Both of our parents worked hard and made many sacrifices for their children, sacrifices that made a difference in who we would become. The first sacrifice was putting us through private school. I know for my parents, as well as many others that sacrifice meant that we would not see a vacation, and the concrete jungle would have to suffice.
John was the first person to introduce himself to me on that first day of school. He was a neighborhood kid from Parkchester, I came in from Throggs Neck, a city bus ride away. I was scared, and his friendly voice was nice to hear since I didn’t know many people — just a handful from my neighborhood.
John was a character — if you needed a quip- he was Johnny on the spot (Please excuse the pun). He wasn’t the smartest guy in the class — that would go to Albert, but he, like me loved history. If anything, we joke that our political perspectives were influenced by Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Lange. “You cannot view history from today’s perspective — it doesn’t work”. I am not sure which one said it, but both of us remember it, almost word for word.
You could see at the time he was everyone’s friend. Being from the neighborhood helped, he knew a lot of the other kids, and he introduced me around. He had the respect of his peers. He was also loyal to his friends. John would NEVER stand for bullying. He was not THE tough guy in the class, but he was respected. If anyone was bullied or teased, next thing you knew — John was standing next to them, put his arm on their shoulder, and it would immediately stop.
John loved to sing, but if you could believe this — he was shy about it. Now John wasn’t shy about much. Years later it became his passion. We both had garage bands, and both of us loved singing. I think it was the sign of the times
Our graduation class was a mix of races, nationalities and deep friendships that have stood the test of time. In all deference to the Congresswoman from the 14th district, we did not see race — among each other. Not a single one of us (people who I considered friends) saw the other by their race or color of their skin. In the racially diverse neighborhood of the Bronx, we were all brothers. Racism, or defining someone by their race- it is not how we rolled. The LaSalle Brothers (the Catholic Ministry that taught us in the school)– would not stand for it either.
What we did see were differences that were not defined by color. As an example, Even though I loved sports, I wasn’t chosen for a team because I was a big guy who just wasn’t fast or agile enough. Today someone would see it as if it was somehow motivated by some inner dark secret. No, I wasn’t good enough, and I would bring down the team! Anyone that took me over the fast kid for any reason was just dumb. If you ask anyone from our class, there was no inner racism that defined us. We were young men who were embarking on a dream to make something of ourselves.
I guarantee that somehow over the next 16 months someone is going to call out John because he is this “white guy”. This is where racism will rear its ugly head. People will accuse John of all sorts of things, and as a friend, I need to stand up for him like he stood up for others.
John didn’t become a cop so he could spew racist ideology, or beat people of color. He didn’t wake up in the morning and hope he could inflict hurt on a minority. People who believe that are naive and senseless. Ask someone going into a crisis, if they are going to pick out people based upon their race or color, or nationality, and they will tell you it is impossible. Thinking like that is insanity at the root level, and it would get you killed. Even saying that thought out loud espouses a deep-seated hatred for ANYONE that is not like yourself. But listen to the news or the politicians, it is all people think about.
We grew up in the time directly after Martin Luther King was murdered. Five years later, recalling Riccardo perform the “I Have a Dream” Speech during speech competitions, still brings chills down my spine to this day. We witnessed solidarity, and we graduated in 1978 with the belief that we each had an ability to change the world, and many of us did.
John served in the police force and after his permanent injury prevented him from kneeling, he sought to serve his community as his first answer. So he went back to school, got his degree and started teaching at his alma mater. When he went back, he realized that in the years that he was gone things didn’t change much.
At Fordham, he got a degree in communication, and ultimately became a broadcaster for the Fairfield University women’s basketball team. It was a hobby that helped him serve his students as well.
For the last 21 years, John has taught Civics and History with a passion (which knowing him everything has that passion) and they wanted his students to learn about history the way he did.
I know John, and I know his compassion. I know that he stays late to help his students succeed. He knows that many of the parents in this poor Neighborhood, either don’t have the means or are simply scraping by to get their children an advantage to become successful. I know he sees his parents in their eyes, and his commitment is based on that. He shows it, and he is a great person for giving that part of himself unselfishly
William — One of his students wrote
“Mr. Cummings did not HAVE to waste his time after school, nor during his free period during the day. But he was like that — he cared about me, and about my future as well as the other students. He helped me to succeed and to graduate… (Mr. Cummings) cared about me, and about my future, and the other students as well. He always took the time to make sure I would pass, not by feeding me answers, but by teaching me to learn and study, and by teaching me what history meant to me and how it related to today’s world”
John’s commitment to his students was foremost. He wanted to help them seek opportunities that would allow them to succeed. His relationship with Fairfield University as a broadcaster caused the college to recognize that there were inner-city students that John taught that could succeed. He provided many recommendations on behalf of his students over the years. Fairfield now provides full scholarships yearly to St. Raymond’s students, and also provides other opportunities to get a quality College degree. The results are one of the best in the scholarship program, St. Raymond’s students succeed, and it is because of the quality of education and mentorship that they are providing, by not just John, but all of the teachers in that school. According to John, the decks are not stacked against his students — as some are saying. Their success is all based upon their dreams and ambitions. Many students have gone on to individual greatness on their own, they have been able to pull their families out of the “projects”. Much based upon John’s influence.
It’s fun talking to John about his students, and the stories he tells are based in his caring for them as important human beings — once again — not one of them is singled out based on their race, or nationality. There is no level of superiority, in his voice or his actions. There is just a deep affinity for their individual potential. The former students I have spoken to have the same passion for current events as he does, and have expressed them to me.
“… He made history real for us. While many of his lessons would branch off into ‘little did you know’ stories. Stories that were part of the curriculum we were learning that day. What was amazing was that these little branch offs were designed to enhance the lesson — real-life examples”
As the years went on, during his Senior Civics classes his students would ask “Mr., Cummings, why don’t you run for office”. His response was that Joe Crowley was entrenched, and was in line to be the next Speaker of the House. It was next to impossible, or so he thought. When Crowley was defeated by first-timer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, he said that his students told him his excuse was now “a lame one”.
When John announced, I was one of the many that called him and pledged support. Many in our class, Hector, Raphael, Kevin, and others have lined up in support of his campaign. We know what he can do, and we believe he can do it. It’s now time to do something!
I wanted to take a moment to tell you about my friend because I can assure everyone that in the months to come, this race will become ugly. John will be taking the high road, but knowing liberal “Alinsky” politics, they will seek to polarize him. Politics has sadly has become identity-based, and many will use John’s ethnicity to define him as someone he is not. People will find ulterior motives, that simply do not exist, to sway your vote, and make it less about issues, and more about optics. I can assure you, he and the campaign are ready for these tactics. I guarantee in the months to come, many will say things that are patently untrue. But you can believe if he gets any traction, they will be talking about them, trying to make them stick. John is not perfect. Like any person, he has flaws and has made mistakes. The John I know cleans things up and leaves the world a better place.
I know John’s motivation for running, and I can tell everyone in this essay his motivation is simple. He wants to serve the community he grew up in. John is not looking to escalate his visibility and to become a political rock star. He is not in this to become rich and to line his pockets at the expense of his constituents. He is not doing this so he can tell people the way to live their lives or to define who they are. He is not trying to take over the economy or to topple our way of life. He is not about forcing people into an ideology, but to show people what is possible.
John is doing this for the same reason he has done almost everything in his life. It’s about Service. He wants to leave the world in a better place. He wants to provide the foundation so that people to achieve their dreams. He wants others to understand that this is the greatest country in the world, and it offers every single person what was espoused in the Declaration of Independence. That “they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Among them are Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Think about that for a moment, and think about what the other side is offering, and compare them. I can’t tell you who to vote for, but I can contrast the difference. Let’s listen to one of his students to understand John’s motivation
“Mr. Cummings will do what he has always done. He will care and focus on the priorities at hand — things that are important to us. He will listen and support people like me, that may need support, but just don’t know how to ask for it. He will put his time where he needs to be! He is not going to be off on a politically and media biased battle to downplay good people. He is not someone who will turn a blind eye to our community and go off and ignore us. He will teach us and lead us the way to get there. “