CNN reports Donald Trump on Saturday directly addressed a largely African-American audience for the first time as a presidential candidate, delivering a warmly received message of unity that focused on fixing economic hardship in the black community.
Trump spoke to members of the Great Faith Ministries in Detroit, part of his outreach to what is typically a sizable Democratic voting bloc. His visit, however, was marked by protests outside of the church ahead of his arrival.
Sitting in a pew at the front of the congregation, Trump took a selfie with a church member and at one point held up a baby over his shoulders. He then addressed the congregation.
“For centuries, the African-American church has been the conscience of this country. So true,” Trump said, reading from prepared remarks. He added, “The African-American faith community has been one of God’s greatest gifts to America and its people.”
Trump told the audience he was there to “listen to your message” and said he hoped his appearance would “also help your voice to reach new audiences in our country.” He said he would lay out his plans for economic change and school choice — issues that he said would benefit black communities — in the future.
“Our nation is too divided,” said Trump, who spoke in a measured tone. “We talk past each other and not to each other. And those who seek office do not do enough to step into the community and learn what’s going on. I’m here today to learn, so that we can together remedy injustice in any form, and so that we can also remedy economics so that the African-American community can benefit economically through jobs and income and so many other different ways.”
“I believe we need a civil rights agenda for our time,” added Trump, whose remarks were warmly received by the congregation.
After Trump finished speaking, the church’s pastor, Bishop Wayne Jackson, draped a prayer shawl over Trump’s shoulders, much to the crowd’s delight, and handed him a Jewish Heritage Study Bible.
“This is a prayer shawl straight from Israel. Whenever you’re flying from coast to coast — I know you just came back from Mexico and you’ll be flying from city to city — there is an anointing. And anointing is the power of God,” Jackson said. “It’s going to be sometimes in your life that you’re going to feel forsaken, you’re going to feel down, but the anointing is going to lift you up. I prayed over this personally and I fasted over it and I wanted to just put this on you.”
Later, Trump swayed along with the music as the congregation’s chorus sang.
After the service concluded, Trump accompanied Ben Carson, his former primary rival turned top surrogate, to the retired neurosurgeon’s boyhood home in Southwest Detroit. Carson told CNN’s Jeremy Diamond he wanted Trump to see areas in the city that are now blighted but were prosperous when Carson was a boy.
At one point, several tried to rush toward a gate near the church’s entryway. Four police officers on horseback blocked them. Some of the protesters urged others to remain peaceful.
Lawrence Glass, the president of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity, addressed reporters and demonstrators at a news conference earlier in the morning, declaring that black voters “will not be trumpets to get his message of fear and hate out.”
“He is speaking at a black church, which is not equivalent to speaking to a black church,” Glass added.
As Trump was set to speak, about a dozen mostly black protesters outside the church followed around Eric Jones, a black Trump supporter from Michigan who was wearing a Trump T-shirt and button. They called him a “sellout,” with one protester hurling a racial epithet at him.
Some of the protesters attempted to converse with Jones, who tried to respond to their questions, but the taunting and shouting drowned him out. He tried walking away but was followed by the group.
Jones told CNN he wasn’t surprised by the reaction, and that he experienced a similar response when he walked among protesters at the Republican convention in Cleveland last month. “The fact is, you got to have honest dialogue in order to change your circumstances.”
Jones said he likes Trump because he’s an “outsider” and “has the best policies,” like his proposals to reform immigration laws.
“You can’t have a country unless you have some borders,” he said.