- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2017

President Trump’s kickoff celebration of Black History Month Wednesday was met on the left with scorn, derision and at least one demand by a black House lawmaker for an apology — a sign to some black Trump supporters that he’s making headway with minority voters.

At a White House meeting, Mr. Trump praised the contributions of African-Americans such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, and said he intends to improve schools and wages nationwide, particularly in large cities.

“We’re going to need better schools, and we need them soon,” Mr. Trump said. “We need more jobs, we need better wages. We’re going to work very hard in the inner cities. We need safer communities, and we’re going to do that with law enforcement. We’re going to make it much better than it is right now.”

The reaction on the left and in much of the media was hostile and contemptuous. Some on social media accused Mr. Trump of insincerity and blasted him for talking about himself and renewing his criticism of the mainstream media.

Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, criticized the president on Twitter, saying he was giving “lip service” to blacks.

“Trump says he’s ‘honoring’ #BlackHistoryMonth. How? By nominating Jeff Sessions as AG? Or by promoting alt-right leader Steve Bannon?” she wrote, referring to the nominee for attorney general and the president’s chief strategist.

She also told the president that if he wants to honor Black History Month, “you should start by apologizing to civil rights hero” Rep. John Lewis. Mr. Lewis, Georgia Democrat, got into a feud with Mr. Trump, boycotting the president’s inauguration and saying his presidency was not “legitimate.”

Mr. Trump responded that Mr. Lewis was “all talk.”

Even Chelsea Clinton weighed in, suggesting on Twitter that she was left speechless by Mr. Trump’s event.

Black supporters of the president said the reaction on the left was at least partly out of concern that Mr. Trump is making inroads into the Democratic Party’s traditional base of minority voters.

“It’s an unfortunate, continuing dialogue of the left constantly trying to scare and make out the new President Trump as the big, bad bogeyman, especially to the African-American voting bloc,” said Bruce LeVell, executive director of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump. “It’s so sad. It’s a very extreme way of intimidation, to try to keep black folk from coming over and working with the Trump administration.”

In the November election Mr. Trump received more than 8 percent of the overall black vote — higher than Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s 6 percent in 2012.

As reporters were being ushered into the meeting room, the president appeared to be discussing the election outcome and expressing confidence that he would boost his support among black voters in 2020 and win a majority of the popular vote.

“The election, it came out really well. Next time we’re going to triple it or quadruple it,” he told people around the table. “We want to get over 51 [percent], right? At least 51.”

One of the participants in the meeting, former Alexandria, Virginia, Vice Mayor Bill Cleveland, said Mr. Trump was expressing the hope that his proposals to help African-Americans will bring results.

“Within the next four years, it is his wish that he would see more African-Americans voting for him,” Mr. Cleveland said. “All he’s asking for is that chance. He wants to show that he really, really means what he says. I truly believe that.”

Among the proposals Mr. Trump discussed were providing more aid to historically black colleges, creating more jobs for inner-city youth and boosting mentorship programs, Mr. Cleveland said.

“It was a what-can-I-do-to-help meeting,” he said.

Mr. Trump pledged to reduce violence on the streets of Chicago and to improve wages and schools across the nation.

“We’re going to have to do something about Chicago,” Mr. Trump said. “What’s happening in Chicago should not be happening with this country.”

One of the participants, Pastor Darrell Scott of Cleveland, told the president that gang leaders in Chicago have contacted him seeking solutions to the violence plaguing the city.

“They reached out to me because they associated me with you,” he told Mr. Trump. “They respect you, they believe in what you’re doing, and they want to have a sit-down about lowering that body count. No politicians, straight street guys, they’re going to commit to lower body counts, and we’re going to come in with some social programs.”

Mr. Trump said, “If they’re not going to solve the problem, and what you’re doing is the right thing, then we’re going to solve the problem for them.”

Mr. Scott replied, “They believe in this administration. They want to work with this administration. They didn’t believe in the prior administration.”

The president said February is a time to “honor the tremendous history of African-Americans throughout the country.” He said his administration’s efforts, led in part by Housing and Urban Development Secretary-designee Ben Carson, will improve living conditions for minorities.

The meeting didn’t feature some black leaders who often participated in similar events during the Obama administration, such as the Rev. Al Sharpton or top officials of the NAACP. Instead, the gathering included Paris Dennard, an official with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and a Trump supporter; James Davis of the National Diversity Coalition; Lynne Martine Patton, a longtime personal assistant to the Trump family; and conservative media personality Armstrong Williams.

Mr. Carson and presidential assistant Omarosa Manigault also attended.

Pastor Belinda Scott of Cleveland, who is Mr. Scott’s wife, told the president that her congregants “love you for listening.”

“We love the Lord, we love our new president, and we are praying for our president on a regular basis,” she told Mr. Trump. “I am so grateful that our president gives us an ear to listen to the community.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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