Donald Trump on Saturday took his message directly to African-American voters, telling a congregation at a black church in Detroit that they are “God’s greatest gift to our nation.”
Trump made his appeal at the Great Faith International Ministries church, after weeks of trying to appeal to black voters and amid criticism that the Republican presidential nominee has yet to bring his message into black communities across the country.
Trump on Saturday vowed if elected to bring jobs back to those communities, including many with impoverished black neighborhoods, and to provide a better education for the children who live in them.
“But today, I’m here to list,” said Trump, reading in subdued tones from what he said was a hand-written message. “I mean it from the heart.”
The event, which included Trump being interviewed by the church’s leader, Bishop Wayne Jackson, for his cable TV show, was surrounding by protesters outside. Some argued with police and private security officers about being denied access to the event and chanted, “No hate in the White House.”
Trump told the congregation in his roughly 20-minute speech that African-American churches — “in the pews and pulpits” — were the foundation of the civil rights movement and the Christian faith, while also asking members to work with him to restore America’s once-prosperous urban centers.
“I want to help you rebuild Detroit, make the city the economic envy of the world,” he said to applause. “Things are going to get better.”
Over roughly the past two weeks, Trump has increases his efforts to appeal to black voters, arguing that the policies of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and those of other Democratic lawmakers have failed residents in many U.S. cities, particularly African-Americans.
“Hillary Clinton-backed policies are responsible for the problems in the inner cities today, and a vote for her is a vote for another generation of poverty, high crime, and lost opportunities,” he said at an Aug. 17 rally in Wisconsin. Democratic lawmakers “have ruined the schools. They’ve driven out the jobs. They’ve tolerated a level of crime no American should consider acceptable. … I am asking for your vote so I can be your champion in the White House.”
After making such arguments, he has frequently said on stage: “What the hell do you have to lose with Trump?”
However, critics argued that Trump made the Wisconsin speech, for example, 40 miles away from Milwaukee and that other, similar speeches have been held in such places as Austin, Texas, and Des Moines, Iowa, not areas Trump has highlighted like Chicago’s South Side or west Baltimore.
On Saturday, Trump also seem to draw attention to the racial divide that separates Americans and the distrust African Americans have for law-enforcement agencies, underscored by the sometimes violent protests that followed the recent deaths of black males while interacting in police.
“Our nation is too divided,” he said, after arguing about a lack of “trust between citizens.”
Trump was joined at the event by Dr. Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon and former 2016 GOP presidential candidate who is black and came from the Detroit area.
After the church event, Carson took Trump to his childhood home.
Trump trails Clinton in most national polls and in the race on win over minority voters.
Also this weekend, Trump will go to Philadelphia to meet with about a dozen business and religious leaders in the city’s black community.