When Carletta Griffin heard Donald Trump call Saturday from the pulpit of a black church for a “civil rights agenda for our time,” she heard a man talking from the heart, with affection for her community.
“What he said sealed the deal for me,” Griffin, 41, an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, said while leaving the Great Faith Ministries International where the Republican presidential nominee received a warm welcome – and even a prayer shawl – as he delivered brief, scripted remarks and quoted Scripture.
“I heard a man speaking from his soul,” Griffin said. “The African American community has been beholden to the Democratic party for 50 years? Where’s that gotten us?”
Ronald Moore, 62, was in the pews, too. But the human resources retiree heard what he’s sure were words penned by black members of Trump’s entourage: his former Republican presidential rival Ben Carson and Omorosa Marigault, the reality TV star and Trump’s director of African-American outreach, who both sat next to Trump in the front row for the church service as he smiled and swayed to the music.
“He acknowledged the history of the black church? Please. He’s never said anything like that before,” said Moore. “He’s speaking around our shoulder to the suburban white Republicans who don’t want to vote for a racist.”
Monay Fort, 49, said she was struck by Trump’s tone – “he was being a lot nicer than he is front of white people.” She said she wouldn’t say Trump was “faking it” but she too, questioned the prepared remarks.
“If you have people in your heart you don’t need a script to talk to them,” she said.
Trump is polling close to zero with black voters in several polls, but came to the predominately black city Saturday to make his pitch, his first campaign trek inside a black church. It was a far cry from the approach he’s taken at rallies largely attended by white voters, in which he’s asserted that blacks lead lives of poverty and violence and questioned what they have to lose by voting for him. His Democratic rival, he charges, is a “bigot” who only cares about black votes.
“I am here today to listen to your message and I am doing that,” said Trump, who told the congregation that he had written his remarks and meant them “from the heart.”
I am here today to listen to your message and I am doing that
He hailed the African-American church as the “conscience of our country” and said that it was from black churches that the civil rights movement “lifted up its soul and lifted up our nation.”
He called the African-American faith community “one of God’s greatest gifts to America and to its people.”
And he promised to support the church and defend the right to worship.
“You do right every day by your communities and your families,” he said.
He delivered sections of his standard stump speech on the economy, but spoke in reserved tones, promising his economic policies would be “so good for Detroit” and that the African-American community would benefit with jobs.
He said he understood that the African-American community “has suffered from discrimination and that there are many wrongs that must still be made right and they will be right.”
He pledged that he would work with the community to “remedy injustice in any form” and argued that “true reform can only come from outside the system. And we are going outside of the establishment.”
He also denounced what he said was a divided nation.
“We talk past each other, not to each other. And those who seek office do not do enough to step into the community and learn what’s going on,” he said. “They don’t know. They have no clue.”
Pastor Jacquelyn Rhodes of New Life Christian Ministries in Detroit said Trump should be credited for appearing at the church and speaking to the audience.
“He gave a very substantive talk and I believe he’s very sensitive to our concerns,” Rhodes said as she left the service. She’s backing Trump, saying she believes Hillary Clinton “lies on top of lies.”
Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, who interviewed Trump for a show that will air on his Impact broadcast network on Thursday, presented Trump with a prayer shawl, telling Trump to wear it “in places that you feel threatened.”
After Trump’s talk, he proclaimed, Trump “has another title now, preacher.”
Outside the church, hundreds protested Trump’s appearance – and even took swipes at Jackson for hosting him, with one sign reading “Our community knows a snake when we see one, too bad that the bishop doesn’t.”
Local religious leaders joined with union members, a mothers’ organization and supporters of Clinton including Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who accused Trump of looking to win by “getting people angry.”
Tension rose to the point that Detroit police at one point called in horses to push back the crowd. But it dissipated and protesters were content with marching in the streets, some pointing to the manure left in the street by the horses as “Trump s#*&.” They launched a new protest chant, inspired by Trump: “What do we have to lose? Everything!”
What do we have to lose? Everything!
Protest chant outside a Donald Trump event
The protesters included Danielle Atkinson, 34, who is expecting her fifth child and arrived with 3-year-old son, Josiah, in tow.
The executive director of a local nonprofit, Atkinson said she’s concerned about Trump’s effect on her children.
“The rhetoric, the bigotry, the meanness,” she said of Trump’s campaign. “It’s frightening to think that I could have to turn the TV off when the president of the United States is on because it’s not appropriate for my children.”
Trump wrapped up his trip to Detroit with a visit to Carson’s childhood home in southwest Detroit.
The classic Detroit bungalow has been owned by Felicia Reese since 1992. She chatted with Trump and Carson outside the house.
Trump joked that since Carson grew up there, the location was famous: “This house is worth a lot of money!” he told Reese.
“You’re talking to a real estate genius!” Marigault told Reese, adding that she’d send her a copy of Trump’s “The Art of the Deal.”