Joe and I got to know Maya Rockeymoore Cummings around the time we got married about a year ago. Her husband, Rep. Elijah Cummings, officiated our ceremony, and at the time, we had no idea that he was struggling with a rare cancer that took his life last month. Maya recently told us our wedding was a happy moment for Elijah during a very difficult time.
Maya is, of course, going through her own hard time in mourning Elijah. Yet, as usual, she’s also standing strong; This week she announced she’s running for her late husband’s Congressional seat, and she just underwent a preventive double mastectomy to reduce her risk of the breast cancer that runs in her family.
She’s doing so much, while most people in her situation may not want to even get out of bed. But as I get to know this remarkable woman, it’s all so perfectly Maya. She’s turning her grief and anger into action, and it’s awe-inspiring.
If she gets to Washington, watch out. Maya’s own resume speaks for itself: She’s served in several governmental positions and just stepped down as the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. She and Elijah shared their passion for service, which was clear in her eulogy. Maya received a standing ovation for addressing President Trump’s attacks on Baltimore and her husband.
Watch it, and see her grief, anger, and passion send a powerful message to all those who thought she may quietly disappear.
Maya explained in her eulogy that “while [Elijah] carried himself with grace and dignity in all public forums, it hurt him…He was a man of soul.” It clearly pained her even more than she could ever say during those dark final months of her husbands life
It’s crystal clear that Maya took Trump’s attacks personally—and her work is not done. There will be many more responses to those attacks in the months and years to come
I knew in that moment, at her husband’s funeral, her goodbye was a way of saying that Elijah may be gone in body, but his spirit is going to live on through her. And it’s going to be resounding.
And while Maya is of course proud of her husband’s service, she is equally qualified to carry the mantle and make her own mark.
She’s doing the same on a personal level going public about her preventive double mastectomy. Maya’s mother died of breast cancer in 2015, and her sister was diagnosed last week.
“I decided along with Elijah,” Maya told me on “Morning Joe” this week. “Breast cancer [affects] women all over the country, but it’s especially facing African-American women. We die at young ages, we have later diagnoses ... There will always be some other priority, and I just want to make sure I’m healthy and well and I can run this race—and run it to win.”
It’s incredibly important and generous of her to go public with this. She’s taking charge of her health, her reality and not waiting for a death sentence.
That sends the message to women that they can take action too. That’s true particularly for African-American women, who have the highest breast cancer mortality rate of any U.S. racial or ethnic group at 31 percent, according to Breast Cancer Prevention Partners.
As a public figure, and for her to do this right before she launches a campaign, is brave, brilliant, and distinctively Maya.
So if you’re angry, if you’re feeling disenfranchised, turn it into action. Maya’s life has been thrown off in so many ways. But she forges on, stronger, wiser and more determined than ever before.