NEW YORK — With pitch perfect poise and aplomb, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton seemed to glide to the podium at the National Action Network's convention on Wednesday as the audience enveloped her in cheers.
She smiled and seemed to soak it all in like a contestant in a beauty pageant as she acknowledged the organization's founder, civil rights leader, Al Sharpton.
Shortly before her arrival, Armstrong Williams, a longtime confidante of retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who recently dropped out of the Republican presidential race had taken a shot at her.
She's a hustler who would use anything, including race, to get what she wanted he blasted.
"Do not allow the Clintons and the establishment to waltz in here and raise their hand and everything is OK. Let them earn your vote…'cause you know the truth when you hear it. And if you talk about race, they played the race card too as they did in South Carolina against Barack Obama," warned Williams.
"Don't get caught up in the short memory. This is a business. They'll say whatever they need to say. Do whatever they need to do to get elected. But you be wise, you be smart and make them earn your vote," he finally declared like a voice crying in the wilderness.
Perhaps Clinton heard Williams. In her strategic address to the convention that lasted about 30 minutes she highlighted a record of involvement with social justice while declaring there was still more work to be done like white people learning how to listen to black people more.
"It's time we face up to the reality of systemic racism in all its forms. And once we do, we are called to come together and break down all the barriers that still hold African Americans back from fully participating in our economy and our society. And together to build ladders of opportunity and empowerment in their place," she said.
"As I have said many times, white Americans need to do a much better job of listening when African Americans talk about the seen and unseen barriers we face every day. We need to recognize our privilege and practice humility rather than assume our experiences are everyone else's. We need to try as best as we can to walk in your shoes …," she told the crowd.
In earlier comments on her Republican opponents she also painted them as dangerous and woeful when it comes maneuvering issues of race.
"As many of you know so well, the last few years have also laid bare, deep fault lines in America. They've revealed how frail our bonds of trust … have become. Despite our best efforts and our highest hopes America's long struggle with racism is far from finished. And we are seeing that in this election," she said.
"When the frontrunner for the Republican nomination was asked in a national television interview to disavow David Duke and other white supremacists according to his campaign, he played coy. This is the same Donald Trump who ran the insidious birther movement to delegitimize President Obama. He has called Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers. He wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States and the list goes on. And not to be outdone by his primary rival, Ted Cruz would treat Muslim Americans like criminals and religiously profile their neighborhoods," Clinton continued. "Some ugly currents that lurk just below our politics have burst in the open and everyone is seeing this bigotry for what it is. Therefore it is up to all of us to repudiate it."
She reminded the crowd that she has been in the trenches as a social justice advocate for most of her adult life whether or not she becomes president she would keep fighting for racial justice.
"My door will always be open to you. You will always have a friend and a partner in the White House. See I believe that Democrats have a special obligation. If we are gonna ask African Americans to vote for us we cannot take you or your vote for granted," she said addressing Williams' earlier criticism.
"We can't just show up at election time and say great things and think that's enough. We can't start building relationships a few weeks before a vote. We have to demonstrate a sustained commitment to building opportunity, creating prosperity and righting wrongs, not just every two or four years. Not just when the cameras are on and people are watching but every single day. I've worked on these causes all my adult life. I'm going to keep on at it no matter what," she said.
Rev. Dr. Anthony Austin, 57, pastor of New Ebenezer Baptist Church in Harlem, who describes himself as a lifelong democrat and an Iraq war veteran said he would like to see Clinton as president.
"I would like to see the first woman president be elected," he said. "She gets things done. She is an established politician and she knows how to get things done."
Lorraine Assent of Brooklyn who also describes herself as a lifelong Democrat said she wasn't impressed with any of the candidates from either party.
"I think the election this year is a sham," she said.
"I'm disenchanted with both parties. What are you going to do for the seniors? Right now I am not supporting anybody. Trump has been saying some of the things I have been saying for years," she added before another woman stopped her short.
She tells the disaffected voter she could not be possibly entertaining the idea of supporting Trump. If one is a registered Democrat and votes in the primary, one will have to support the Democratic nominee, the other woman added. The disaffected voter becomes silent.
Linda Boyd, another lifelong Democrat says while she is frustrated with the process she has already made up her mind who she will vote for.
"They promise you everything and they say what they think you want to hear and they do not act on anything but I will vote," said Boyd. "I will not give up my right to vote."