For those who think that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy is hidebound in 1960's-era hagiography, the Rev. Ronald Slaughter finds inspiration from the civil rights icon in President Donald Trump's America.
"We are now fighting racism all over again," said Slaughter, the pastor of St. James AME Church, one of the largest African-American church congregations in Newark. "Racism is now in the highest office in this country with this president in the White House. We have to be ready to pick up and continue the same struggle that Dr. King fought."
Slaughter was recently recognized for his work in the community at an event last Friday at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) held in honor of Dr. King. The event, sponsored by PSE&G among others, also recognized the work of Deborah Smith-Gregory, president of the Newark chapter of the NAACP, and Philip S. Thomas, founding vice president of NJPAC Arts Education.
The tenor of the times, with President Trump allegedly making racially charged comments in Washington, DC, the day before the Newark event, led Slaughter to speak out.
According to the Washington Post, President Trump, during a private meeting with a bipartisan group of senators about protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, asked “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
Trump's coarse query was reportedly followed by specific comments from Trump about Haiti, advising the lawmakers present at the meeting to keep immigrants from that country out of any potential deal. In New Jersey, Newark has significant immigrant populations from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries.
"It is very disheartening to have a president make the type of statement that he made, and to watch him do what he does, when his own wife comes from not necessarily the richest country in the world," said Slaughter, a reference to First Lady Melania Trump's Central European homeland of Slovenia.
"She came to America and now she has a wonderful life, all because somebody gave her a chance," Slaughter said. "But President Trump doesn't want to give anybody else a chance."
On Wednesday, the Trump administration said that Haitians will no longer be eligible for U.S. visas given to low-skilled workers.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a regulatory filing that it was removing Haiti from a list of more than 80 countries whose citizens can be granted H-2A and H-2B visas, given to seasonal workers in agriculture and other industries. It cited what it said were “high levels of fraud and abuse” by Haitians with the visas, and a “high rate of overstaying the terms” of their visas.
Slaughter gratefully received the "Visionary Of The Future" award at the NJPAC event. But given the ramifications of the events that continue to unfold in the current political atmosphere under Trump, Slaughter has his eyes on a greater prize.
"When you see individuals such as the president that we have in the White House at this moment, and the people that follow him and support him and his ideology and his racism, you see that the problem is not just a central geographic epidemic. Racism is worldwide," Slaughter said. "We have to protect the rights of all people. We have to embrace and welcome all people. And we have to fight for all people. This is how we keep Dr. King's legacy truly alive."