OLEAN — In honor of Black History Month, one of the leaders of the African-American community in Olean, Ola Mae Gayton, provided thoughts on a deceased congressman and civil rights leader, as well as a poem he read from another great Black leader.

Gayton said she has been inspired by the life of service lived by the late U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, “a declared person of faith, born in Baltimore, Md. to parents … who had been sharecroppers in South Carolina.”

Cummings died Oct. 17, 2019.

His father also had been a minister. After graduating high school and college, and earning a law degree, Cummings was a civil rights advocate who dedicated his life of service uplifting and empowering others.

For 13 years, Cummings served in the Maryland House of Delegates before being elected for Maryland’s 7th Congressional District to the House of Representatives, Gayton remembered.

She said that during Cummings’ years of service, he served on several congressional committees, including as chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform in Congress.

In his first speech from the floor of Congress, Cummings recited a poem by the late Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, which emphasized one’s short lifespan and the things that one could achieve in the brief dash of life while on this Earth. Mays was born to former slaves in South Carolina in 1895 and became a theologian, theoretician, orator, author, college president, civil rights activist and school board president.

Mays’ poem, recited by Cummings in 1996 on the House Floor, is titled “Just a Minute”:

I have only just a minute, 60 seconds in it

Forced upon me, can’t refuse it, didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it

But it is up to me to use it.

I must suffer if I lose it

Give account if I abuse it

Only a tiny little minute

But eternity is in it.

(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at kates_th@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)

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