CLEVELAND - The view from the Republican National Convention can seem like a distorted reality.
Delegates like Wendy Long, a candidate for U.S. Senate, ponder aloud how they “just don’t recognize our country anymore.” Pro-Trump demonstrators put George Soros on par with the Islamic State. Rep. Steve King asks on cable TV what non-white "subgroups" have done for society.
That view seems even more jarring in deep-blue Cleveland, particularly in a place like Olivet Institutional Baptist Church.
The church is some four miles removed from the downtown convention center, where police have divided Public Square into sections when necessary for safety, to separate protesters angrily announcing their perceived divisions.
There are no police surrounding Olivet. No delegates wandering around in red, white and blue. No Donald Trump gear for sale or protesters to pose in front of for a selfie.
It’s a socially conscious church, steeped in the history of the civil rights movement. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. worked out of the church while organizing in Cleveland.
The current pastor, Rev. Jawanza Karriem Colvin, has continued that legacy — creating a coalition of congregations to do community organizing, including after Tamir Rice was shot in 2014 by a police officer who mistook the 12-year-old boy’s toy gun for a real one.
The church is holding a three-day “Impact 2016” forum to provide counter-programming to the Republican National Convention. It includes panels and speeches on such topics as "Wealth and Income Inequality," and "The Assault on Voting Rights," not causes much mentioned at Quicken Loans Arena.
The events started Tuesday and included a lightly attended screening of a Freedom Riders documentary. Academic and Sen. Bernie Sanders supporter Cornel West — who had been in attendance that morning, parishioners said, and is scheduled to give the keynote address Wednesday evening — had already left, bound for an anti-police brutality rally at Public Square. That event, also attended by the Revolutionary Communist Party, ended in near chaos, with the square shut down and scuffles between protesters and Infowars founder Alex Jones.
Lorene Rollins, 67, said that the documentary had reminded her of her upbringing in Montgomery, Alabama. She’d been too young to attend MLK’s rally at the state capitol but her parents let her watch it on TV. She says her mother, a factory worker, had to find a different way to get to work during the bus boycott.
She came to Cleveland as a young woman and remembers a redlined city, largely white on the west side and black on the east, split down the middle by the Cuyahoga River.
Those divisions have changed, she says, with the diversifying city, but many of the underlining issues remain: including a mutual lack of respect, she believes, between police and residents.
“The names have changed but the game remains the same.”
Olivet has played host to many presidents and candidates, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Rollins says politicians are welcomed to the sweeping, uncluttered white sanctuary, but not allowed to speak from the pulpit.
She is retired and volunteers at the church, and says she isn’t political. But she always votes and hasn’t made up her mind about the current conflagration unfolding a few miles away. She wants to keep an open mind, and says she’s waiting to hear Trump speak on Thursday.
But she allows that Clinton seems much more knowledgeable than Trump, and that his lack of knowledge disturbs her: “You can’t stop ISIS if you don’t know what ISIS is about.” It concerns her that some people at least seem to support Trump because of racism.
Of those Republicans who seem uncomprehending of the issues that parishioners in places like Olivet and all over the country deal with — “They just don’t get it, or they just don’t care,” Rollins says.
But she’s hopeful and has faith that the God-given principles of “do unto others” will prevail — the same welcoming God so often mentioned on the convention floor.
“We’re all one nation,” she says.
Check amNY.com throughout the week for more analysis from the GOP convention.
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