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Michelle Deal-Zimmerman: It’s past time to elect a Black senator from Maryland. How about Michelle Obama? | COMMENTARY

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Michelle Obama is working behind the scenes with PLEZi Nutrition, a new company that will make and sell food and drinks for kids that have less sugar and more nutrients.

Michelle Obama has been traveling Europe, dancing on stage with Bruce Springsteen in Barcelona and enjoying the life of an empty-nester with two bestsellers and a husband who has a reliable government pension.

It’s good that she’s having fun before getting down to the real task that awaits her this summer: moving to Maryland to become the state’s next U.S. senator — and its first Black senator to boot.

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Mrs. Obama may not have seen it on her schedule because I haven’t had time to clear it with Secret Service or her team, but the movers are willing to squeeze in the family for the 48-mile trip from Kalorama Park to Roland Park.

Perhaps Guilford is the better landing spot for a former first lady, since Gov. Wes Moore and his wife’s former home in the neighborhood is still up for sale. Neighbors are used to seeing a security team and having a high-powered couple next door. Sherwood Gardens is nearby, and so is Mom’s Organic Market, since we know that being a mother is the role Mrs. Obama most prizes.

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But being a senator is also a role that Mrs. Obama could learn to enjoy. She already knows many of the Senate members, since turnover is relatively rare, so there won’t be any of that new awkwardness. Her husband is likely to cause a stir upon occasion, but at least he has a security clearance. And as most of us know, that chamber works hard at doing very little, so she will still have plenty of time for family and crab feasts.

That’s not to say Maryland doesn’t want a vigorous, dynamic, change agent representing the state in the U.S. Senate. We most certainly do.

Since 1789, Maryland has had 63 senators, including hardworking senators like Ben Cardin, who has missed only 42 of 5,366 roll call votes in three terms; enduring senators like Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, who was the longest-serving female U.S. senator to date when she stepped down in 2016. We’ve had former governors, military officers and legislators. Seven senators named John and seven named William. Anti-Jacksonians, Whigs, Unionists, Federalists, Republicans and Democrats — we’ve had them all.

You know what we haven’t had? A Black senator. It’s time for Maryland to make a change.

There are many qualified candidates in Maryland who will soon leapfrog into the race for the seat Cardin is vacating. It’s an important job that often comes with tenure, so voters won’t need to be convinced to take the election seriously.

With a host of solid choices, you might ask (politely): Why does anyone care about the skin color of their senator? It’s a good question! We shouldn’t have to care — and if this country had different origins and a history that prioritized equality and civil rights for all, perhaps we would not.

But since it doesn’t, then representation matters. A lot.

If you’re white, you are accustomed to seeing many people like yourself when working at the office or selling a house or seeing a doctor or applying for a loan or going to church. Even on TV — your image is reflected back at you in so many ways and in so many places that you don’t even notice. It’s normal. The norm.

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Instead, imagine if everywhere you went you rarely saw people who looked like you in any space. What would that feel like? Isolating? Threatening? Frustrating? No matter what, you’d certainly notice it.

Now think about America’s leadership, in particular the U.S. Senate. In a history that includes nearly 2,000 senators, it has had just 10 Black members (11 if you count William Cowan, who was appointed to fill in when Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry resigned in 2013). Only two Black women have served in the Senate: Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

Black people make up 40.1 million U.S. residents, some 12% of the population. Yet, Black senators account for just 3% of the U.S. Senate’s members — three Black men representing Georgia, South Carolina and New Jersey.

In Maryland, Black residents are 31% of the state’s population. We have elected zero Black senators since 1913, when the 17th Amendment was enacted, allowing a popular vote to determine who serves in the Senate.

Zero.

The math isn’t hard, and the solution is in front of us. We need to be intentional about choosing who replaces Cardin. Let’s avoid the tired trope about voting for the “best” candidate. We can only vote for names that appear on the ballot.

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Who can doubt Parren James Mitchell would have made an amazing senator? Dr. Enolia P. McMillan, the first woman to head the NAACP, would have been an excellent choice, too. What about Verda Freeman Welcome, the first Black woman elected to Maryland’s state senate? Or Elijah Cummings, who declined to run for the open Senate seat in 2016, but who we only later learned was quite ill. All have served Maryland honorably and would have done so in the U.S. Senate, if given the opportunity.

We can’t go backward, so we must go forward with a commitment to make a different choice.

Mrs. Obama knows all about change. She’s lived it firsthand and seen its whiplash ramifications.

As first lady, she planted a few vegetables in the White House garden, and suddenly everyone was mad at broccoli. Then she launched her “Let’s Move” initiative to encourage physical activity, and some folks hated their own feet.

Indeed, Mrs. Obama’s critics will say her programs did not solve childhood obesity — U.S. consumption of broccoli peaked in 2016 but has since fallen nearly 30%, according to Statista — or end hunger in America.

Imagine that.

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Still, Mrs. Obama has not given up. Just this month she announced a new partnership with PLEZi Nutrition, a D.C.-based company that will focus on making healthy food and drinks for children. She can work on that while helping Baltimore ease its food deserts.

Listen, I realize that Michelle Obama is highly unlikely to take up a political campaign in any realm of the imagination. Even if it is just next door.

It will be up to Marylanders to create the change we want. I hope we can do it.

Michelle Deal-Zimmerman is senior content editor for features and an advisory member of The Sun’s Editorial Board. Her column runs every fourth Wednesday. She can be reached at nzimmerman@baltsun.com.


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