Did you know that a Member of Congress gave his life on a mission to assist refugees?
That was the late Rep. Mickey Leland (D-TX) who, along with Congressional aides and relief workers, perished in a plane crash in Ethiopia in August of 1989. As Chairman of the House Select Committee on Hunger, Rep. Leland was on his way to visit refugees along the border between Ethiopia and Sudan. It was one of several such trips he made to call attention to those in need around the world.
Trained as a pharmacist, Mickey Leland later entered politics and served in the Texas State Legislature before getting elected to Congress to succeed Rep. Barbara Jordan (D-TX). In Congress, he focused his attention on hunger and public health issues. He elevated matters of concern to minority communities and served as Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Along with Rep. Ben Gilman (R-NY) and Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH), he worked to establish the House Select Committee on Hunger, which focused on a wide range of both domestic and global issues relating to hunger, nutrition, poverty alleviation, and child health and child survival. The Select Committee worked with UNICEF Executive Director Jim Grant to call the attention of Congress to global children’s issues, including the plight of children in emergencies.
As a Congressional aide, I had the privilege of travelling with Rep. Leland on a trip to Haiti in 1987. A true citizen of the world, Mickey Leland was at home whether in a poor family’s shack or in a government ministry. He could bring support and encouragement to those in need while raising their plight with the powerful.
As the saying goes, he knew how to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
Mickey Leland was a wonderful ambassador for the United States to the world’s most vulnerable people. When he interacted with them, they knew he wanted to make a difference for them in the U.S. Congress. At a time when we look for bipartisan leadership to save and improve the lives of vulnerable children, Mickey Leland’s example is there for us. Concerned legislators like him truly can make this a world fit for children.
His friend Cleve Francis wrote “Ode to Mickey” in tribute to him. It ends with these lines:
“If you can travel to the end of the world
To bring hope to those
Who would otherwise never know it
You know the meaning of Courage
And if you can see a smile in the face of those
Who should have no reason to smile
You know that there is still time.”
Time, indeed, for us to ask our legislators to work to put children first!