President's Barack Obama's July 18 speech about race and the Zimmerman verdict was "great," said Bishop Harry Jackson, normally a strong critic of Obama, because it was like a "balm of healing to blacks who feel left out."
"The Civil Rights Movement was led by the Church, changed hearts, then laws. Today we're trying to get politicians to do what only what the Church can do, and, more or less, that's what the president said," remarked Jackson, chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., in a Thursday panel discussion on PBS' "The Newshour."
Moderator Jeffrey Brown appeared surprised to hear Jackson praise Obama: "Most issues with the president, you don't agree, because we have talked about this on the program before."
"Yes, but I think [Obama] did a great job," Jackson responded.
The speech was unscheduled. It was not written ahead of time and a teleprompter was not used. Rather, Obama took the podium during the usual scheduled press briefing to, as he put it in his opening remarks, "expand on my thoughts a little bit."
Obama spoke about what it is like to be a black male in the United States and to often be treated with suspicion by strangers.
"And I don't want to exaggerate this," he said, "but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear."
Obama praised the work of the judge and jury in the trial: "The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury has spoken, that's how our system works."
Obama also called for nonviolence (demonstrations were scheduled for later that day): "I think it's understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through, as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family."
And, he said that these issues should mostly be dealt with at the state and local level, not "some grand, new federal program."
Jackson believes Obama was mostly talking to blacks with the speech, and added that he wished "he had spoken more also to whites."
White people, Jackson said, saw the speech as divisive, but for blacks the speech served to heal wounds. He recalled being on a radio show earlier that day in which whites were "all upset because they see this as divisive as opposed to giving a little bit of a balm of healing to black people who feel left out."
Jackson also called on the Church to increase its efforts to address the problems associated with racism.
"I think that we, as the Church (I don't want to be pejorative or negative) we haven't stepped up at the level we should," he said.
"I think black, young men, with broken homes, need surrogate families instead of gangs," Jackson added. "I think churches and groups like 100 Black Men are prepared to take up the slack, but one little organization won't do it. We need multiple churches. In my view, we need black, white, Hispanic churches working in tough urban areas together. And we can't let this thing called racism divide us."
The segment can be viewed here on "The Newhour" website.