Pa. U.S. Rep. Summer Lee celebrates Black achievement during ceremonial swearing-in | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pa. U.S. Rep. Summer Lee celebrates Black achievement during ceremonial swearing-in

click to enlarge Portrait of U.S. Rep Summer Lee from 2019
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham

In the final week of Black History Month, U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-12th District, held a ceremonial swearing-in for her home district constituents on Sunday, complete with song, spoken word poetry, praise from other elected officials, and a surprise guest appearance by  Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey.

The gathering at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood celebrated Lee as the first Black woman elected to Congress from Pennsylvania. The event opened with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” (a hymn often called the Black National Anthem) sung by local artist Dejah Monea. 

“We think of history as something that we read, not something that we actively participate in,” said community activist Jasiri X, who presented a spoken-word poem. “But if you did anything around this campaign, if you knocked on doors, if you signed petitions, if you defended Summer in person or online, you participated in actual history.”

Darrin Kelly, president of the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council, told the audience that he and Lee “didn’t always see eye to eye,” but that when the pandemic began, he was impressed with how Lee, who was then the state representative for the 34th House District, stepped up for her constituents.

“Summer changed the narrative of politics in Allegheny County,” Kelly said, and faced a “political Mount Everest” in her campaign for Congress. “Every one of us are better leaders in Western Pennsylvania because of what she’s done for us.”

Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, who served alongside Lee in the state House until his election last November, told the gathering that Lee was a fighter, “a voice for the voiceless, and a fire for working class and marginalized voters.”

“In 2023, we’re still reaching new heights and making new Black history,” Davis continued. “This moment is the symbol of how far we’ve come as a people, but it’s a reminder of how far we still have to go.” 

Davis added that Lee made him think of a quote from the late U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress: “This kind of sums up Summer’s entire career: ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.’”

Lee received congratulatory video messages from about a dozen elected officials, including Gov. Josh Shapiro, U.S.  Sen. Bob Casey. (D-Pa.), U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and U.S. Reps Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

After a symbolic swearing-in by Allegheny County Judge Nicola Henry-Taylor  (Lee was formally sworn in last month), the congresswoman thanked her constituents and everyone who helped get her elected.

“Right now, we are going to have to decide what our country is going to be, and who it is going to be for,” Lee said. “Are we going to continue to let our nation slip down a road of fascism, of wealth inequality, of racism, of xenophobia and anti-Semitism? Or are we going to be a nation that lives up to its ideals?”

Gainey, who turned 53 on Sunday, had pre-recorded a video message as well, but as Lee neared the end of her speech, he spoke up from the audience: “I’m here for Summer Lee.” 

“Is that the mayor? He wasn’t going to be here because it’s his birthday but this a hard working brother,” Lee said. 

She added she was glad that Gainey, Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor, was there to celebrate “this historic day. 

“Because when he broke down barriers in the city of Pittsburgh, he paved the way for me and Austin to break barriers at the state level and the federal level, and we’re going to bring more people with us,” she said. 

Kim Lyons is a contributor for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.

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