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Douglass descendant details next steps, honors Elijah Cummings

Oct 17, 2019

Credit James Brown / WXXI

Just before Kenneth Morris took the stage Thursday to talk about his nonprofit’s plans, he learned that longtime Congressman Elijah Cummings had died. He asked everyone for a moment of silence for the Democrat who served Baltimore and several nearby towns. 

Morris said he met Cummings several times while he lobbied to pass a law on Capitol Hill. 

“He really enjoyed talking about Frederick Douglass, who was a hero of his,” Morris said of Cummings. “(The law) was named in honor of Frederick Douglass, the Frederick Douglas Trafficking and Prevention Act, and Representative Cummings was very supportive of our work.” 

Morris is the great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass and the great-great-grandson of Booker T. Washington. His group, Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, focuses on human trafficking prevention education. It moved from Georgia to Rochester a few years ago. He said the legacy of Douglass “ran down Rochester’s streets.”

Since the move to Rochester, the nonprofit has added racial equity and inclusion to its agenda. 

Morris announced that his group and several community partners are bringing best-selling author and historian Ibram X. Kendi to the Hochstein School. Kendi will discuss his book “How to be an Antiracist” and his work, which focuses on the effects of racism and attempts to combat it. Morris said bringing Kendi to town is “what Frederick Douglass would do.”

Kendi’s appearance is part of a panel discussion on “How to make Rochester a truly equitable community” on Nov. 18. The event is organized by FDFI, the city of Rochester and several community partners.

Deputy Mayor James Smith said Kendi’s book is in line with the city’s efforts for inclusion.

“Dr. Kendi’s book is an important tool,” said Smith. “It gives us clear and productive language to have us all talk about race, racism and and equity together.”

Free digital copies of the book are available from the Monroe County Library System through the end of November.