Even before President Trump took to the lecturn to deliver his first State of the Union speech, the rebuttal was well underway at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington.
A panel of academics and activists issued a scathing critique of the president's first year in office: Trump does not deserve credit for the declining unemployment rate among black Americans, his rhetoric has divided rather than united the country, and his policies are geared toward protecting the interests and freedoms of a wealthy minority.
The panelists spoke about the effects of Trump's presidency on black America during an event that drew a large and lively audience to the historic black church in Washington's Shaw Neighborhood.
William Spriggs, an economics professor at Howard University, said black unemployment began decreasing in 2010, during President Barack Obama's first term.
"This would be the rooster claiming that he made the sun rise because he crowed," Spriggs said, adding that Trump inherited the lowest black unemployment rate of any president. He said the good news is the black unemployment rate continued to drop during Trump's first year, but the bad new is last year, the overall rate of job growth slowed.
The event was organized by the NAACP and TV One host Roland Martin, who served as moderator. The president's speech was not shown during more than two hours of discussion, but several attendees said they planned to view it later on YouTube.
Kasaun Wilson, 30, a stand-up comedian, said it was important to hear panelists discuss issues important to black Americans that are not being discussed in government, such as income inequality and voting rights.
The crowd in the church sanctuary listened in silence as Martin read comments Trump made to television reporters earlier Tuesday about wanting to unite a divided country. Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, expressed skepticism.
"In every respect with President Trump — his words, his actions, his policies his appointments — all we've seen is the politics of division," Clarke said. "I think there is no president who has done more in recent times to divide our country. . . . He has taken our country back decades and we have a tremendous amount of work to do when the chapter is closed to repair our country."
NAACP President Derrick Johnson talked about the importance of voting, starting with this year's midterm elections for Congress.
"In a democracy, our vote is our currency," he said.
Temi F. Bennett, 30, a lawyer who works for the D.C. government, said although she is politically engaged — she's helping to organize a political convention for black millennials this spring — she said the gathering at Shiloh was invigorating and reassuring. After Trump's election, "a lot of people are feeling that their votes didn't matter," she said, and the speakers at Tuesday's event reminded the community of what's at stake.
She also said she planned to watch Trump's speech later because, "You need to know your enemy."
The National Center for Public Policy, a black conservative group, issued a news release applauding Trump for a "well-written and well-delivered speech."
The release quoted one member of the organization criticizing black leaders for refusing to give Trump credit for the black unemployment rate.
"Whether you love him or hate him, President Donald Trump deserves to celebrate — brag, if you will — about his administration's accomplishments," said Derryck Green, who added that "members of the Congressional Black Caucus remained seated with angry faces — without even a hint or gesture of acknowledging such wonderful news."
Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) said in a statement late Tuesday that there was "nothing promising about President Trump's ability to read a speech from a teleprompter."
"Every action taken by him over the past year has been destructive for poor, working-class, and middle-class communities throughout this country, as well as communities of color. He said nothing tonight that wipes that slate clean," Richmond said.