Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Saturday spoke at a black church for the first time as a candidate, condemning racism and promising economic prosperity for the African-American community, while emphasizing that he was there to "learn and listen."
"For centuries, the African-American church has been the conscience of this country. So true," the billionaire businessman said at the Great Faith International Ministries church in Detroit, Michigan, reading from a prepared script. "The African-American faith community has been one of God's greatest gifts to America and its people," he added, according to CNN.
Trump, who was at the church with former Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, a Detroit native, told the congregation that he was there mostly "to listen to your message, and I hope my presence here today will help your message reach new voices," reported Detroit Free Press.
The GOP nominee, who spoke for about 20 minutes, said the United States sidelines "young black men with tremendous potential" and that "our entire country misses out when we are unable to harness the potential and energy of these folks."
Trump said black churches "in the pews and pulpits" were the foundation of the civil rights movement and of the Christian faith, and urged the congregation 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. Things are going to get better," Fox News quoted him as saying.
"I believe we need a civil rights agenda for our time," he added, according to BuzzFeed News. "One that ensures the rights to a great education — so important — and the right to live in safety and in peace, and to have a really, really great job, a good-paying job and one that you love to go to every morning. And that can happen."
Trump said America is "too divided."
"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. They don't know. They have no clue," he said, according to The Washington Post.
Trump accuses Democrats of failing 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 a rally in Wisconsin last month. 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."
The Saturday's event included Trump's interview with the church's leader, Bishop Wayne Jackson, for his Impact Network, the television network Jackson founded in 2010. The interview will air after about a week.
Outside the church during the event, some protesters chanted, "What do you have to lose? ... Everything."
Days before the event, The New York Times reported that the questions for the interview were submitted in advance, and Trump's campaign prepared answers for those questions after consulting black Republicans.
The Times said it had a document that includes the exact wording of answers the aides are proposing for Trump to give to questions about police killings, racial tension and the perception among many black voters that he and the Republican Party are racist, among other topics.
However, Bishop Jackson said he didn't see any problem with the Trump campaign screening his questions. "We want this to be as peaceful as possible," he told the Times. "That's what I promised would happen. I promised that: You are coming into a place to be interviewed and we don't want anybody to be hurt or anybody to be misused, so that's it."