Trump, John Lewis and Steve Harvey: What would Martin say?

     FILE - In this April 2, 1965 file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., second from right, speaks at a news conference next to John Lewis, to his left, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/William A. Smith, File)

    FILE - In this April 2, 1965 file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., second from right, speaks at a news conference next to John Lewis, to his left, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/William A. Smith, File)

    As the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump looms ever larger on the horizon, I celebrate Martin Luther King Day with a volatile mix of emotions.

    As the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump looms ever larger on the horizon, I celebrate Martin Luther King Day with a volatile mix of emotions.

    I feel anger when I recall the president-elect’s many insults targeting the black community, including his crass decision to “thank” African Americans who chose not to vote. I feel sadness when I think of the looming departure of the nation’s first African American President, Barack Obama. I feel pride when I think of King, and countless others who gave everything to make Obama possible.

    That’s why this weekend’s exchanges between the president-elect, Civil Rights icon John Lewis, and celebrity Steve Harvey were of particular interest to me. In watching Trump engage with these two very different black men in the run-up to King Day, I saw for myself the tenuous nature of King’s dream of racial equality. I saw for myself how easily that dream can be destroyed. 

    Trump’s first interaction took place via Twitter. That’s where he insulted U.S. Rep. John Lewis, after the Georgia Congressman dared to lend voice to what many Americans now suspect—that Russian interference has called the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency into question.

    In an exclusive interview that aired Sunday, Lewis told Meet The Press moderator Chuck Todd that it will be difficult for him to forge a relationship with Trump because “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.”

    When asked to explain his reluctance, Lewis, citing reports from U.S. intelligence agencies, said, “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

    Trump responded via Twitter: “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!”

    It was an interesting response, given that Lewis’ life epitomizes taking action to back one’s words. 

    Last year, Lewis led a sit-in on the House floor while attempting to force a vote on gun control legislation. And in the 1960s, Lewis, who worked with King to confront racial injustice, risked his life to participate in the Freedom Rides that challenged racial segregation in the South. Lewis also suffered a cracked skull at the hands of Alabama State troopers while helping to lead the Selma voting rights march that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”    

    Lewis’ life is one that is filled with action, and as a result of his actions, African Americans won the very voting rights that Trump now mocks in speeches.

    Moreover, Lewis’s Fifth Congressional District, which encompasses much of Atlanta, is not the crime-ridden place that Trump portrays it to be. While there are pockets of poverty, there are also high-income communities and regional economic drivers like the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Emory University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Georgia Tech and Coca-Cola’s headquarters.  

    But Lewis, despite his many meaningful accomplishments is apparently not worthy of Trump’s respect.

    Comedian and radio-TV host Steve Harvey is another matter entirely. In the culture of wealth and celebrity from which Trump hails, Harvey is a man to be respected.

    Having suffered bouts of homelessness while working his way up through the comedy circuit, Harvey, a Cleveland native, has seen poverty close-up.  

    Today, Harvey reaches a primarily black audience through a daily syndicated radio show. He reaches millions more through a TV talk show, as host of the Family Feud game show, and as an author and producer of books and movies on relationships. 

    Harvey, who supported Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign, trekked to Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump over the weekend for what he said was a meeting about housing.  

    But as I looked at images of Harvey and Trump standing together in the lobby of Trump Tower, I came to believe the meeting served as a tacit endorsement. 

    The statement Harvey tweeted afterward confirmed as much.

    “Our president (Obama) asked that all of us sit down and talk to one another in order to move our country forward,” Harvey wrote on Twitter. “The transition teams on both sides asked me to meet and I’m glad I did. I found him in our meeting both congenial and sincere. Trump wants to help with the situations in the inner cities so he immediately got Dr. Ben Carson on the phone to put us together to begin dialog in looking at programs and housing to help our inner cities and he’s very open to my mentoring efforts across the country.”

    Though Harvey said he believes something great can come of his meeting with Trump, I’m not so sure.

    In fact, if I were to trust the views of any black comedian on Donald Trump, it would not be Steve Harvey. It would be D.L Hughley.

    Hughley spoke for many African Americans when he posted a video lambasting the president-elect for ascending to the presidency on a platform rife with racial division. And Hughley was right. I am wary of Trump’s support of Stop & Frisk, a policing tactic ruled unconstitutional because it targets people of color. I am troubled that Trump spent five years denigrating the nations’ first black president by questioning his citizenship.  I am leery of Trump’s attempt to fix his record on race by taking pictures with black rappers and comedians.

    But most of all, I am disappointed that Steve Harvey, a man whose many platforms have made him a trusted voice for millions of black listeners and viewers, would use his celebrity to endorse Donald Trump before Trump has lifted a finger to help black people.

    In my view, that is a stain on the memory of the African Americans who fought for centuries to make Harvey’s success possible. Because in the words of slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

    We must demand more than photo ops with black celebrities. We must demand more than vague promises of change. Because if our president-elect respects the work of black entertainers more than he respects the legacy of black freedom fighters, then power has conceded nothing, we’ve moved backwards on the issue of race, and King’s dream is much farther away than we thought. 

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