U.S. Sen. Kamala D. Harris, D-California, makes special remarks during the worship service at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Sunday, March 24, 2019, in Atlanta. The Democratic candidate for president also visited Morehouse College on Sunday. (Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Kamala Harris visits Ebenezer, Morehouse in White House bid

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris became one of the first Democratic presidential candidates to hold a major public campaign event in metro Atlanta, making stops at two historic African-American institutions this weekend: Ebenezer Baptist Church and Morehouse College.

Harris also received her first endorsement from a Georgia elected official, with freshman state Rep. Erick Allen, D-Vinings, putting his support behind her.

“I believe in Kamala Harris’ vision to restore opportunity, truth and justice in America,” Allen said in a statement. “She knows that we have to bring the country together — that we have so much more in common than what separates us.”

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Harris began her day sharing a pew with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, the church’s senior pastor, called Harris’ candidacy “the realization of our ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

Harris addressed the congregation on its annual Youth Day. In her remarks, she reflected on the church’s history in the civil rights movement and continued missions of “justice.”

“When I look at our young leaders on this Youth Day, when I look at the future of our country, I know our future is bright. I also know every fight in our country is born out of optimism,” Harris said. “When I look at the youth leaders in our country today, it is so clear that they are clear that in the face of a vacuum of leadership, they know they cannot leave their future in the hands of those less capable than themselves. I see that in you and it inspires me, it inspires me so.”

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Harris received a standing ovation from the congregation at the conclusion of her remarks. During the part of the service when churchgoers greet each other, Harris was caught in a group of dozens seeking selfies and offering handshakes.

At Morehouse’s Forbes Arena-McAfee Court, all three scoreboards had 20-20 scores glowing in neon to note the year of the presidential election ahead. After enthusiastic introductions from local politicians and officials including U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff and Gwinnett County Board of Education member Everton Blair, Harris took the stage with a hearty “What’s up, Atlanta?” She was greeted by the crowd of about 3,000 with applause, cheers and stomps.

Her speech hinged on the concepts of justice and “speaking truth” — being honest even if the truth is uncomfortable. At both the Morehouse rally and the Ebenezer church service, she addressed issues of gun violence in schools, gun control and police violence in communities of color.

“Speaking truth can be quite uncomfortable. And for those of us who speak behind a microphone or a podium, there’s an incentive to make people feel happy … but speaking truth doesn’t always make people feel good,” Harris said. “This is a moment in time when we must and leaders must speak truth.”

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Nadia Surrency, 34, saw Harris at the morning church service and was excited to hear what she would have to say at the Morehouse event, which she also attended. Surrency’s sister, who runs a clothing store in Columbia, South Carolina, met Harris a few weeks ago, when Harris bought a sequined Mardi Gras jacket at the shop.

“Now it’s my turn,” Surrency said.

Surrency is keeping her mind open when it comes to presidential candidates, but has Harris on her list. She’s particularly interested in Harris’ economic policies and what the California senator would do to help prepare incarcerated people to transition back into society once released from prison.

Mychael Williams, 52, is fully on board with Harris. He already ordered a T-shirt and a yard sign for his College Park home, and he was excited to see her speak in person for the first time Sunday. Harris’ record as a prosecutor — she previously served as San Francisco’s district attorney and attorney general of California — was a major selling point for Williams.

Williams wasn’t surprised that Harris was coming to Atlanta so early on in the 2020 presidential cycle; he had been eagerly awaiting the day his favorite candidate would visit Georgia.

“As soon as the notification came, I signed up,” Williams said. “I’m open to hearing what she has to say. I hope it matches up with what I’ve already heard and liked. You know what they say, Democrats have to fall in love with their candidate.”

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