Black Faith Leaders Tell Convention This Election Is for the ‘Soul of America’
U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, discusses the importance of the Nov. 3 presidential election during a roundtable discussion Thursday involving Black leaders in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention.

Faith leaders, others in Black community say Trump presidency has made it harder for people of color to achieve American dream.

With Americans locked in a divisive battle for the direction of the nation, the Nov. 3 presidential election is the most important in generations and has huge implications for the country’s future, Black lawmakers and religious leaders said Thursday. 

During a Black Faith Leaders Roundtable event Thursday in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention, panel members said the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket is the necessary antidote to President Donald Trump’s actions they said have made it harder for people of color to achieve the American dream.

Speakers referenced slavery, the failed Reconstruction effort following the Civil War, the 1954 Supreme Court decision to desegregate schools, and the civil rights movement, saying gains made by African Americans during those struggles will be reversed if Trump is re-elected. 

“If we fail in this year’s election, I can tell you we will see the clock turned back at least a century,” U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, who represents the 6th Congressional District in South Carolina, said of Trump’s policies that have adversely impacted Black Americans. “The election this year is the most consequential election that we’ve had in my lifetime. If we lose this election this year, we will relive that which our parents and grandparents lived through.”   

The roundtable event occurred virtually as coronavirus pandemic concerns altered nearly every previously-planned DNC event for Milwaukee. Thursday marks the last day of the four-day convention, which will feature Biden, who was nominated Tuesday as the Democratic presidential candidate to face off against Trump. Harris was named his vice presidential running mate last week.

Participants included Clyburn; U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri; Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore of Milwaukee, Lieutenant Gov. Mandela Barnes, and state Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison.  

Clyburn’s support of Biden during the presidential primary in South Carolina was key to the former vice president winning the state, and the victory catapulted him to his party’s nomination. Clyburn said he spoke with Biden at length about his policies regarding people of color before deciding to throw his support behind him. 

Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan would provide resources to communities of color and those that are impoverished. That plan is in stark contrast to Trump’s policies, which have benefited the wealthy at the expense of middle- and low-income families, panel members said.

“That’s why I’m for Joe Biden. His plan will help the Black community,” Clyburn said.

Other event speakers also said this year’s election is especially important, given the significant differences between Biden’s and Trump’s positions, and what they said is a dangerous direction the country is headed in under Trump’s tenure. 

Many people are being left behind under [Trump’s] policies, said Barnes, the first African American elected lieutenant governor in Wisconsin. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed many societal problems that especially harm people of color, he said. 

“We need a moral revival. This is our moment to restore hope to America, the fight for the soul of America,” Barnes said. 

Cleaver lamented the more than 173,000 people who have died in the U.S. so far because of the coronavirus pandemic, a number that continues to climb and would be less if Trump had taken concerns about the virus seriously, he said. He criticized Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for their visits to Wisconsin this week as the DNC was happening virtually in order to ensure safety. 

During those visits, Trump and Pence touted the strong stock market and said the nation’s economy—decimated by COVID-19—will be robust if they are re-elected.

However, Cleaver and other Black leaders said Trump’s economy has left many behind, especially people of color. The pandemic has impacted those communities disproportionately with higher death and infection rates in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

“Our democracy is at risk. We need a leader who is willing to sacrifice. And Joe Biden has a history of sacrifice,” Cleaver siad. 

Americans must work to overcome the current divisive, fearful climate of the country, Ellison said. Rather than transactional politics, in which politicians act because they will receive something in return, they must be motivated by doing good for their constituents, he said. 

“We have a spiritual problem in America,” Ellison said. “We have to move toward being a caring nation. This is the most important election I’ve ever seen. But it’s not just about the election. It’s about what comes after.” 

Americans must reject the fear and divisiveness being perpetuated by Trump, Stubbs said, and instead seek to come together. Doing so won’t be easy but is necessary to tackle the important issues facing America, she said. 

“We need a president who stands up for people versus a president who just stands by,” Stubbs said. “This is our time to stand up.”