DETROIT — Criticized for urging black voters to support him while speaking to mostly white audiences, Donald Trump visited a predominantly black church to call for a “civil rights agenda for our time.”
“I am here to listen to you,” the Republican presidential nominee told the congregation at the Great Faith Ministries International, where he swayed to songs of worship and read scripture.
“I’m here today to learn,” said Trump, who is Presbyterian.
Trump, who vowed to fix the “many wrongs” facing African-Americans, has been stepping up his outreach to minority voters in recent weeks as he tries to expand his appeal beyond his GOP base. The church visit Saturday marked a rare appearance by Trump in front of a largely minority audience.
“This is the first African-American church he’s been in, y’all!” said Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, who introduced Trump. “Now it’s a little different from a Presbyterian church.”
While protesters were a vocal presence outside, Trump made a pitch inside for support from an electorate strongly aligned with Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“Our nation is too divided,” Trump said. “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 is going on.”
Striking a rare unifying tone, he said, “I’m here today to learn so that we can together remedy injustice in any form.”
Trump praised the black church as “the conscience of our country” and said the nation needs “a civil rights agenda of our time” that includes the right to a quality education, safe neighborhoods and good jobs.
“I fully understand that the African-American community has suffered from discrimination and that there are many wrongs that must still be made right,” he said.
Before he left, he was presented with a Jewish prayer shawl, which Jackson draped over Trump’s shoulders, and a Jewish Heritage Studies bible. Trump also met with a smaller group of church members and recorded an interview with the pastor.
Trump’s efforts thus far to attract greater support from minority groups have largely fallen flat. Polls show Clinton with overwhelmingly more support from blacks and Hispanics.
African-American community leaders, in particular, have railed against Trump’s dire depictions of minority life and dismissed his message as intended more to reassure white voters that he’s not racist than to help communities of color.
Rev. Lawrence Glass, one of the clergy criticizing Trump’s visit, said the Republican represents the “politics of fear and hate” and that “minorities of all kinds have much to lose taking a chance on someone like” Trump.
Outside the church, several separate protests swelled into a throng of about 400 people denouncing Trump. But inside, churchgoers said they thought it was important to hear directly from the Republican nominee as they weigh their options.
“I’m here to hear what he has to say,” said Milton Lewis, 46, who works as a minister at another church.
“I have a very open mind,” echoed Pierre Curtis, 69, a Great Faith Ministries International congregation member for more than 20 years.
After the church visit, Trump visited the southwest Detroit childhood home of Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who ran against Trump in the primaries and is now advising the campaign. Surrounded by security and a swarm of reporters, Trump spoke with the home’s owner, Felicia Reese, and told her: “Your house is worth a lot of money,” thanks to the Carson connection.
Meanwhile, Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, told NBC’s “Meet The Press” in an interview set to air Sunday that he plans to release his tax returns next week. He repeated Trump’s promise that the businessman will release his taxes upon the completion of an IRS audit.