The Rev. Donte Hickman, an East Baltimore pastor who was scheduled to host President Donald Trump in his community last winter, said he was invited Monday to meet the president at the White House.
Hickman said he didn’t know if the invitation came in response to the president’s tweets over the last three days denigrating the city and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat.
Hickman said he declined to go to Washington because he was “unavailable."
Trump tweeted Monday afternoon that he was looking forward to a meeting with “wonderful Inner City Pastors!”
Among the attendees at the meeting were Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Asked afterward about Trump’s tweets attacking Democratic U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings and his congressional district in Baltimore, she told reporters that employment was up in black communities and that historically black colleges and universities were fairing well under Trump’s administration.
“Well, you know, America is troubled. And if we say we’re colorblind, we need to put on our glasses,” she said. “We can see. We can see a troubled America, but we can see a blessed America. ... We have an opportunity to continue to be blessed, and we have a president’s whose listening. And I was glad to pray with him today."
Hickman invited the president last year to Baltimore. The White House accepted but then canceled a planned December visit. Hickman went to the White House instead to talk about how the Trump administration is working to help struggling communities in the nation’s cities, in part though tax breaks for investors who put money into neighborhoods designated “opportunity zones.”
Hickman said Monday that his invitation to Trump to come to Baltimore still stands.
“I think it’s important for the president to engage with and really see the community of which he talks about and has talked about giving support to," Hickman said.
A spokesman for the White House could not immediately be reached for comment.
Hickman, who leads the Southern Baptist Church, said he’s meet with private developers intrigued by the opportunity zones, but that the federal government also needs to dedicate more public money to revitalizing impoverished neighborhoods.
“This is a life or death moment for people living in the communities," Hickman said. "I believe it’s above the personalities and rhetoric.”
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Hickman said he hopes the president’s tweets, in which he called Cummings’ district “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess," will lead to Trump being held accountable for what happens in Baltimore.
“We need more of his influence beyond the insults," Hickman said.
At the event Hickman attended in December at the White House, Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to use their resources to bolster the opportunity zones program. The president said the order was designed to help communities like the one where Hickman’s church stands.
“This council will support communities like East Baltimore, where Pastor Donte Hickman is helping lead a groundbreaking project in the newly designated opportunity zone,” Trump said then. “He’s been an incredible leader.”
Then-Mayor Catherine Pugh, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Cummings declined invitations to attend the earlier White House event. Hogan is a Republican and Pugh and Cummings are Democrats.
After meeting Monday with the president, the Rev. Bill Owens, the founder of a group called the Coalition of African American Pastors, also said Trump should visit Baltimore.
“This country needs healing,” Owens told reporters at the White House. "There’s so much division in America along racial lines.”