Elijah Cummings's We're Better Than This--a 2020 Essence Best Book of the Year and NAACP Image Awards Winner for Outstanding Literary Work in the Debut Author category--is part memoir, part behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of American democracy and part call to action. That last piece is, perhaps, the most crucial concept readers can take from the life Cummings dedicated to public service.
Though Cummings began the work on this book himself, he and James Dale were unable to finish the project prior to the congressman's death in 2019. Dale, along with Cummings's widow, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, completed the work posthumously to honor Cummings's wish to share his story with his nation, working diligently, Dale notes, "to make sure that this book was true to his vision and his wishes." The result is remarkable, capturing not only Cummings's stories but his voice (an effect further enhanced in the audio version, narrated by Laurence Fishburne).
We're Better Than This takes its title from an oft-repeated phrase in Cummings's speeches, in which he displayed a righteous outrage at the state of American democracy in the 21st century. Though Cummings himself died before much of his work could be completed--to repair the damage he saw--his own words can be a comfort and a clarion call to act in trying times: "When it seems like you can't do anything, do something. Don't say it's too big or too oppressive to overcome. Start. Try. Now." He started the work--and now it's up to us to take it from here. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm