Rep. Elijah Cummings didn't have much in the way of material things as a boy, and neither did most of his friends. They were so poor, in fact, that although they formed a Cub Scouts troop, none of them could afford to buy the uniform. But rather than moan about it, like any good Scout, they improvised.
Cummings and his friends regularly trolled the local Salvation Army store and "every now and then somebody would find a shirt or a pair of pants that some white boy used to own," he told BET.com. They also bought iron-on patches imprinted with numbers from John's Bargain Store, then cut out the numbers to iron onto their shirts.
In their little troop, some boys had the uniform's pants, while others had the shirt. He doesn't recall anybody having a complete uniform.
"This picture shows the only thing I was able to find, which was a belt. As a matter of fact, that's a Boy Scout belt and even though I was in the Cub Scouts then, I was so proud of that belt," Cummings said. "As you can see, I wasn't a fashion guru, but we did the best we could with what we had."
The future attorney and lawmaker bought the prized possession with money he earned selling the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper. He was so enterprising that he expanded his route to 125 customers and hired three brothers to help service his paper route. In addition, they sold newspapers to people in bars, on buses and at the market.
"We did pretty good," Cummings proudly recalled.
Of all the photographs in his collection, the lawmaker says this image of himself and his younger brother James, now a cyber security expert at the Pentagon, is his favorite "because it reminds me so much of how far I've come and that we do grow up."
Recently, a young boy who appeared to be about 11 years old approached him at the grocery store. "Sir, may I help you with your groceries?" he asked. Cummings didn't need any help but accepted it anyway and tipped the boy two dollars.
"You know why? It reminded me of when I was a kid and of the many customers who would give me 50 cents for a 15 cent Afro and would say, 'I'm doing this because I want you to be the best that you can be,'" he said. "And I wanted to do the same for that little boy."
Follow Joyce Jones on Twitter: @BETpolitichick.
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(Photo: Courtesy Rep. Elijah Cummings)