Selected Speeches

UMB CURE Scholars Launch

Oct. 10, 2015
School of Nursing


Good morning. I am so delighted to welcome everyone to this celebration of our UMB CURE Scholars!

Do you know how long I’ve wanted to meet you?! I’ve dreamed of this day. But I’m not the only one. Our entire community has rallied around the 43 smart, and curious, and motivated scholars we recognize this morning.

In this room are so many committed people who see the enormous potential of the children here today—and children just like them in neighborhoods across our city—and they want to help; they want to contribute; they want to partner with us to make sure that every child who wants to succeed is given the chance to succeed.

You’ll see to my right a group of these leaders whom I’ll introduce in just a minute.

Rep. Elijah Cummings

But let me single out the Hon. Elijah Cummings if I may, because I owe him a debt of gratitude.

In June 2014—16 months ago—Congressman Cummings and I had a conversation. And it was one of the toughest conversations I’ve ever had.

I’ll give you some background. For years, the University of Maryland, Baltimore has had this terrific summer internship program for city high school students who are interested in medicine and bioscience. Over the summer, the students get to team up with our faculty members and researchers—scientists who are known all across the country. They get to learn from them and work side-by-side with them in their labs. It’s an amazing program.

But Congressman Cummings was rightly frustrated, because we couldn’t ever fill the program. We couldn’t get just 25 qualified and interested students from across Baltimore to apply for an internship.

And so, in that phone call with Congressman Cummings, I promised him that this University would develop a program so that—never again—would we have a deficit of students ready and eager to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities.

And then a few months later, we got word that the National Cancer Institute’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities was awarding us this grant to establish the UMB CURE Scholars Program.

And now I can say to my dear friend, the Hon. Elijah Cummings, that we will NOT be in want of young talent to nurture. If you look at these 43 students, you will see that we are most certainly NOT in want of young talent today.  

But, in fact, we never were.

UMB CURE Scholars

There’s a line I read recently that’s so true, I can’t get it out of my head. It’s from a U.S. Marine-turned-activist, who said, “Talent is universal; opportunity is not.”

That’s why we’re here today. We’re here to make opportunity universal—to dismantle the barriers to access that prevent the young people in our neighborhoods from pursuing careers that save lives—that make people healthier, happier, and stronger.

We’re here to tell our young people that they can be whatever they want to be—and that they can do whatever they want to do—even cure cancer.

And so to all of our scholars, I’ve already told you that you’re bright, and curious, and motivated, and driven. But you’re also brave. You are. You’re our very first class of CURE Scholars, so that means you’re pioneers. You’re trailblazers. And you’re going to help us make this program so good and so much fun … that absolutely everyone will want to be a part of it.

And I have a promise for you. We’re not letting you go. There’s no getting rid of us. We’re going to stick with you through middle school and high school and college and beyond. And—every step of the way—we’ll be in your corner, cheering for you, rooting for you.

And, believe me, there’s going to be no one prouder of you than we are when you achieve everything you’re capable of.

Eliminating Health Disparities

Do you wonder why do we care so much? Why we want you to pursue a career in the health sciences?

It’s not only because we want you to realize your full potential and land a good-paying, secure job—though we do.

We care so much because we need you. Science needs you. Your neighbors need you. Baltimore needs you.

And I’ll tell you why: Cancer and other chronic diseases devastate communities like the ones you live in. Cancer diagnoses and deaths are higher in the city than they are statewide. And they’re higher still among the city’s black population. On so many health indicators, African Americans fare worse than everyone else.

It’s not right. It’s not fair. And it’s not inevitable.

We’re counting on you, our young scholars—and the many more who will come after you—to change the landscape of health care research and delivery; to rewrite what’s possible in terms of treating and curing disease; and to make our neighborhoods healthier and stronger for all of us.


I see in the audience today leaders in education, in philanthropy, community advocacy, and medicine. I thank you for demonstrating what a community united in hope and hard work looks like.

To everyone here from the National Cancer Institute and the Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities, thank you. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, you should be flattered indeed. Thank you for being not only a model for us but also a critical support.

I see our higher education partners in the audience: Dr. Jennie Hunter-Cevera, Maryland’s acting secretary of higher education; Dr. David Wilson, president of Morgan State University, Dr. James Takona, dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Education at Coppin State University; and Dr. Gregory Thornton, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools.

To the administrators from Greene Street Academy, Southwest Baltimore Charter School, and Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School, thank you for nurturing such bright, curious children and for giving us your full friendship and partnership.

To the UMB CURE Scholars Advisory Board, we couldn’t do this without your leadership and good counsel. I thank you for the wisdom that’s guided the program’s development every step of the way.

To the Leadership Team—a group that many of us (with good cause) have begun calling the DREAM TEAM: I thank you for the hours and hours and hours of hard work that a program like this demands. Through blood, sweat, and tears—and never-ending details—you’ve gotten us to this day. Thank you.

To our mentors—incredibly, more than 100 mentors—you are the heart and soul of this program. This isn’t a commitment of a year or two or three. You’re in these scholars’ lives for a long time. You’ve signed up for good. And it’s your profound generosity of spirit that guides us.

And to all the parents, grandparents, and families here this morning, thank you for giving your children a safe, supportive space to develop their talents, their creativity, their determination and drive. If these scholars are extraordinary—and they are—it’s because they were confident of your love and encouragement every day. Could we give the families here this morning a round of applause?

Before I introduce our next speaker, I want to close with a story that some of you have heard before—so I appreciate you indulging me.

A few years ago, I was at Lexington Market with the Mayor. We were talking about introducing healthy foods to the market—which is especially important for the hundreds of children who go there every weekend with their parents. I was paired up with a group of children on an art project, trying to make apple slices and grapes look like a race car. I wasn’t very good at it.

So I started talking to the boy sitting next to me, Xavier, 8 years old, who offered to help me with the art. I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He mentioned the NBA and the NFL—and when I didn’t look too impressed, he said: “Or maybe I’ll have your job.”

I ask myself every day: “Why not?!”

Any one of you might have my job one day. Many of you will have jobs that are far better than mine. If we trust each other and work really hard together, you’re going to do some extraordinary things.

And if you don’t believe me, I have some ringers in the audience, and I hope they don’t mind me introducing them.

Dr. Laundette Jones is an assistant professor of epidemiology and public health in our School of Medicine. Dr. Jones, would you please stand and wave?

Dr. Greg Carey is an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology in our School of Medicine. Dr. Carey, would you stand?

Dr. Natalie Eddington is the dean of our School of Pharmacy. Dean Eddington, would you please stand?

All three scientists are alumni of the NCI CURE Scholars Program. And all three scientists are doing amazing things right here at UMB. And if they did it—then you can do it. So let’s see you go!

Introduction: Rep. Elijah Cummings

The Honorable Elijah Cummings is a man who never needs an introduction—certainly not in West Baltimore. He is synonymous with this community.

Since 1996, Congressman Cummings has represented Maryland’s 7th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is committed to the children and families of his district with a passion and a power rarely seen.

He is dedicated to ensuring that every individual has access to opportunity—and that means access to high-quality health care and education, to clean air and water, to good-paying jobs and safe neighborhoods.

He is—frankly—one of my heroes.

Please welcome Congressman Elijah Cummings.

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