Just days after his nephew was killed in a shooting, U.S Rep. Elijah E. Cummings challenged a church filled with friends and family to take a stand against senseless violence, and make the most of their lives.
"The day for each one of us is still going on," Cummings said as he delivered a eulogy with religious fervor. "You need to go back and make sure every student on that campus is safe. Do something."
The congressman made the statements Saturday during the funeral of his 20-year-old nephew, Christopher S. Cummings, a junior at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., who was shot to death June 10 in his off-campus home.
Even though his nephew did not live in Baltimore, the services were at Victory Prayer Chapel on Reisterstown Road, because the church was started by Cummings' family, the veteran politician said.
Cummings described his nephew as an enterprising young man who modeled good behavior and served as inspiration for many, including himself.
"You said I inspired you, but, Christopher, my brother, you inspired me," Cummings said during the eulogy. "We love you, and we thank you for shining a light on our life."
Dylan Gingerich, a student at Old Dominion University, was one of three classmates who shared anecdotes about Cummings during the service.
"I never met a person who didn't like him," Gingerich said in an emotion-filled speech, which ended with his kissing the caramel-colored wooden coffin.
Christopher Cummings' father, James A. Cummings, spoke of his son's lawn care business, which became so successful that it helped to purchase his first car. He also spoke about his son's generous heart and love of family. "He loved life and celebrated everyday to the fullest," his father said. "We have to celebrate the 20 years we had with him."
Cummings was born in Biloxi, Miss., but grew up in Woodbridge, Va., where he graduated with honors from Forest Park High School. He recently completed his sophomore year at Old Dominion University, where he was studying criminal justice. Cummings held a 3.5 grade point average, and was a member of Theta Chi fraternity, where he was in the process of becoming the organization's rush chair next school year.
Police have not identified a suspect or a motive for the killing, which also resulted in the shooting of Cummings' roommate, Jake Carey. Police have said that Carey is being treated for life-threatening injuries, but would provide no updates on the case Saturday.
Elijah Cummings said he hoped his nephew's killing would force Old Dominion and the city of Norfolk to increase security in the neighborhoods surrounding the school.
"Sadly, in cities all over the country just like this, there are things like this happening to young African-American males," Cummings said after the ceremony. "And they don't get the same attention. Hopefully, this will result in some changes."
After the services, Cummings, whose district includes most of Baltimore and parts of Baltimore and Howard counties, said he plans to meet Monday with the president of Old Dominion University.
"I want to talk about the changes — and there have already been some — that are being made at the school," Cummings said. "Hopefully, we can spread the word."
Even though friends and family were still attempting to make sense of the unexpected death, they spent most of the service sharing happy anecdotes about the man they considered a hard worker who also happened to be "the life of the party."
Gingerich said he and Cummings became best friends, and members of each other's families. The two even worked a summer construction job together at his father's company.
"You couldn't have done a better job raising him," Gingerich said to Cummings' parents, who were sitting in the front pew of the church.
Gingerich fought back tears as he concluded.
"This isn't a goodbye," he said as his voice waned. "It's a see-you-later. I hope to one day have a son half as amazing as he was."
Elijah Cummings said the family has been inundated with support.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Gov. Martin O'Malley attended a public viewing during the week. And President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama sent a letter of condolence to the family. But, Cummings said he was most impressed by the show of support by his nephew's classmates, who traveled more than four hours to attend the services.
"It is just absolutely incredible, " Cummings said. "There had to be at least 250 kids from the campus here today. It just means a lot to me and to the rest of the family."
After the funeral, the students lined up at the church's entrance and formed a path to the hearse. A number of the students sobbed uncontrollably as the pallbearers carried the coffin past them.