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 from Israel over Trump’s shoulders and handed him a Bible.
“Let me just put this on you,” Jackson said, as the crowd roared with delight.
Later, Trump swayed along with the music as the congregation’s chorus sang.
The GOP nominee also sat down with Jackson for a one-on-one interview that will eventually air on the Impact Network, an African-American-founded Christian broadcast television network.
Greeted by protesters
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the church before Trump arrived, some of whom chanted, “Whose city? Our city!”
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.
The Republican nominee has been criticized throughout his campaign for not reaching out to African-American voters in their communities.
But the GOP nominee has stepped up his outreach to African-American voters in recent weeks, trying to draw a contrast between himself and Clinton, whom he has called “a bigot who sees people of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future.”
He now frequently says black communities are troubled by high crime and unemployment, as well as poor school systems, blaming Democrats for mismanaging America’s inner cities.
Asking for the African-American vote last month, Trump asked, “What the hell do you have to lose?”