A young Liberian, after graduating from the College of West Africa (CWA) in 1973, did a semester at Cuttington University College (now Cuttington University), then traveled to the United States for higher education.
After successfully completing his education, he started working for corporate America. Conscientious, diligent, hardworking, honest and unassuming, Alex Cummings slowly began climbing the corporate ladder at one of America’s premier multilateral corporations, Coca Cola International.
Today, as Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, he is head of Coca Cola’s worldwide operations and has been so for some time.
Mr. Cummings returned home last August in the middle of the Ebola crisis to tell President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf one thing: “Coca Cola had lost a lot of business because of Ebola, but we will not downsize. We will maintain our current staff and continue to contribute to Liberia’s development. We will continue to build the Coca Cola Technical School on Deport Road to help young Liberians to use their heads, hearts and hands to help develop Liberia.”
True to that pledge, Mr. Cummings is back, and yesterday he joined President Sirleaf not only in opening a new bottling line at Coca Cola’s manufacturing plant in Paynesville, he was also at the President’s side as she cut the ribbon to open the technical school on Du Port Road.
Here is a young Liberian who went to America and shined, but decided that was not the end. “I must return to my native Liberia and carry some of the light there, too.”
Is that not what the Japanese did? After their defeat by the United States in World War II, the Americans, magnanimous in victory, decided to rebuild Japan. One of their first actions was to send Japanese to the USA to train them in technological and other educational pursuits. The Japanese took along their small cameras and photographed everything they saw. They also studied their lessons, following which they returned to Japan to rebuild their country. Within 15 to 20 years Japan was ready to compete with America and Europe in almost everything—electronics, automobile manufacture and big business. Soon, Japan was competing with Ford, General Motors and Chrysler with the Toyota, Dotson, Mitsubishi and other motor vehicles, which soon became the preferred automobiles in America!
The Indians soon followed. After being fully colonized by Great Britain in 1857, hundreds of thousands of Indians migrated to Britain. There, they went to school and became highly educated in the Arts and Letters as well as in Science, technology and business. And despite racial discrimination to which they, like all other non-white groups, were subjected, the entrepreneurial Indians soon became a major player in British commerce, and they spread to many parts of the British Empire, including English colonies in Africa and Asia. But the Indians never forgot India or their culture. Armed with technology and business acumen, they slowly returned to India and brought loads of the education, training, technology and business prowess with them.
Today, India is on the move, with high tech centers all over the country, including New Delhi, Bangalore and elsewhere. India is now a nuclear power, and has entered space explorations. They also have their own version of Hollywood, called Bollywood. And what do we Liberians do when we travel to the West, especially to America, and shine?
Too many of us work conscientiously and hard for the white man, but when we return home, it is business as usual. We create nothing, but as soon as we land a government job, we start following the money, stealing and engaging in other corrupt practices and, in the end, give nothing back. Many of us, because of our failure, disappear under the radar, unwept, un-honored and unsung.
As a result, Liberia, Africa’s oldest independent republic, remains one of the world’s least developed countries. We import most of what we eat because our trained agriculturists, though they shine in America, Europe and elsewhere, when they return, they end up accomplishing nothing.
Not Alex Cummings, the not so old Trinity Sunday School boy, son of a renowned Liberian educator and later Episcopal priest. Young Alex took in and remembered the stories of Jesus and told himself, “It is not about me, but about my people. I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day, for night cometh when no man can work.”
So though he holds a most senior international job that landed him at the pinnacle of corporate America, Mr. Cummings did not allow his lofty attainment to cause him to forget the land of his nativity. That is why he returned this week, to make good his pledge to his President and people. He expanded the Coca Cola plant by introducing a new product; and beyond that, he opened a brand new Technical School to train Liberians in new technology.
Thank you, Alex Cummings and Coca Cola International! May God continue to bless your business and the works of your hands! And may we in Liberia appreciate what you all are doing for us and make the very best use of it, to push our country a little further.