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At Trump’s inauguration black supporters were few, but they were there

Pride, curiosity and protest drew African-Americans to the ceremonies

Elation was mixed with curiosity, skepticism and hints of rebellion among African-Americans who came to witness the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The audience at the U.S. Capitol and the relatively sparse crowds along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route were overwhelmingly white, reflecting that Trump received about 8 percent of the black vote. But the small group of African-Americans who backed Trump during his campaign had prime seats for the ceremony, and came away feeling jubilant and optimistic.

Bruce LeVell, executive director of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, was energized by the section of Trump’s speech in which he talked about “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities … and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

“The urban renewal is not a talking point. It’s very aggressive and real,” said LeVell, who was seated a stone’s throw from Trump. “You heard the talk about the drugs and the gangs. He’s serious.”

“I’m elated,” continued LeVell, who owns a jewelry store in the Atlanta area. “The most brash, aggressive, extreme, transparent [president] spoke about black folks, us. That’s delightful. He mentioned the black community in his speech. You can’t just say it, bro, and not do it.”

Joel James, a 26-year-old lobbyist who served as an Atlanta field director for Trump’s campaign, watched the ceremony from the Capitol grounds with a deep sense of relief and accomplishment. The part of the speech that resonated with him most was when Trump said, “The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.”

“Something he hasn’t done a lot was mention the Bible,” James said. “Mentioning that we should speak our minds and engage in debate is refreshing because that’s how we learn and grow. A lot of times we stick to party rules and ideologues have control. Speaking your mind and engaging in debates make room for intellectual conversations.”

Republican political operative Armstrong Williams has attended every inauguration since President Jimmy Carter in 1977. This time, he felt a unique sense of pride. He served as an adviser to Ben Carson, who campaigned for Trump after losing the Republican nomination. Carson was recently named secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

“It’s a real milestone in my life,” Williams said. “It was emotional. I was proud of Dr. Carson, and I just so want Trump to do well, because there are so many naysayers.

“I know Trump is sincere, he wants to make a difference in these inner cities and urban areas,” Williams said.

Cyndi Love, a Trump volunteer from Scottdale, Arizona, who spent her own money during the election to set up phone banks and pass out yard signs, said she will always remember the spirit of the ceremony: “It was a movement of the people. We the people having our freedom to take our country back. I’m a part of this movement.”

The scarcity of black faces around the ceremonies did not make an impression on her. “I don’t really see color,” she said. “Living in Arizona, around 3 percent black population, I didn’t come here with that in mind, the whole black thing.

“I just think at this point, we all need to unite no matter what our race, color, creed or whatever,” Love said. “We need to reunite for the good of this country.”

It was hard to find black Trump supporters along the parade route, rather than African-Americans who came for other reasons – to witness history, to accompany colleagues, or to demonstrate resistance to the incoming administration.

“My emotions were mixed,” said Rev. Dean Nelson, board chairman of the Douglass Leadership Institute, an education and public policy organization.

Nelson is a Republican, but did not vote for Trump or Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. He is friends with Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference, who prayed at the inauguration. “There were times when I was proud. Some of the prayers by my friend Rev. Rodriguez, those things were very positive for me.”

Nelson left before Trump’s speech, but he said, “some of the things I heard that Trump said I thought were good. I’m a proud American.”

What struck Nelson most was the scene of Trump standing next to former President Barack Obama. “It was unique to see them on the same platform, very interesting to see that transfer of power, two very different presidents and politicians. Just very different type of leaders.”

Numerous protesters lined the parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue, and many empty seats were visible in bleachers that normally hold cheering crowds. Jay Adams, a 35-year-old mechanical technician from Washington, came to register his discontent. He’s not sure if he caught sight of Trump’s vehicle, but that was not the point.

“To just show the media, the president and everyone that we’re paying attention. We’re watching you. Were definitely watching you. That there’s a lot of controversy, a lot of opposition, a lot of blatant cynicism.

“I don’t know how the history books will write things,” Adams said. “Our grandchildren might not even know he’s a bad president. The winners write the history books. I just wanted to let people know this was one of the most controversial elections ever.”

Jesse Washington is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. He still gets buckets.