Howard University News Service/The Hilltop
WASHINGTON — Just two days before the inauguration of his most famous spiritual pupil as the nation’s 44th president and months after their very public falling out, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright told an overflow crowd at Howard University Sunday that Barack Obama represents the transcendent possibilities for Americans, particularly African Americans.
Using a story from the Bible of how Jesus healed a man who had been ill for 34 years and changed his life, Wright, pastor emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, said the Lord had done the same for Obama.
God “stepped into his story and gave him a new attitude,” Wright told more than 2,500 people. “The scrawny kid with the big ears and the funny name said, ‘Yes, we can,'” Wright said.
Wright, who has delivered the sermon at Howard on the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday for the past five years and has been speaking at Howard as part of the Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel Series for nearly 20 years, became controversial after the media dug up old video of him condemning America’s foreign and domestic policies.
Initially,Obama said he disagreed with Wright’s remarks, but would not denounce him. But in a speech and question-and-answer session by Wright at the National Press Club in Washington later in the campaign, Wright said that as a politician Obama would say what he had to say to get elected. After those comments, Obama broke off his relationship with Wright and left his church.
Obama’s election has changed the way African Americans see themselves, Wright said.
“No more seeing ourselves through the eyes of others who don’t look like us,” he said. “We’re now free and seeing ourselves through the eyes of a God who loves us and loves all of God’s children equally.”
Wright also used his sermon and Biblical text from the book of John to admonish those who envision themselves as victims, and urged them to take control of their lives.
“Stand up, downsized — start your own business! Stand up, dropout — go back to school,” he said. “Stop wallowing in quicksand and stand up, black man — and take care of your own family!”
Wright also told the audience racism, capitalism and militarism remain strong negative forces and that people who don’t recognize these forces at work in such things as the government’s response to Sudan and Hurricane Katrina as well as the civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip are “blind.”
Despite the controversy surrounding him, Wright was welcomed warmly at Cramton Auditorium by Howard University President Sidney Ribeau, the Rev. Bernard Richardson, dean of Rankin Chapel, the university’s board of trustees and the hundreds who began to arrive as early as 9 a.m. Half an hour before the 11 a.m. service was to begin, the 1500-seat auditorium, the Rankin Chapel and another facility were filled to capacity.
“Every time he comes, he delivers a powerful message, and that is all I am expecting,” said Fred Dean, community director for one of Howard’s dormitories.
Excitement was etched in the face of 10-year-old Kiev Gambrell as he awaited the service in one of the overflow facilities.
“We just wish we had a seat inside,” Gambrell said.
New York resident Vera Sims said it was appropriate that Wright spoke just before Obama’s inauguration.
“There was controversy that arose with Obama and Dr. Wright,” she said, “and a lot of great things come out of conflict. Without conflict, we wouldn’t have growth.”
People from across the nation had come to Cramton to hear Wright. Among the people in the audience were the president of Morehouse College and officials from Spelman College and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Eva Scott, a Washington resident and Howard alumna, said she had waited years for a day like Sunday.
“At 87 years old, this is one of my most thrilling and proud moments at my alma mater,” Scott said.