The pews at Carter Memorial Church of God in Christ were packed for the Community Conversation on Young Men of Color, a forum hosted by activist Kwame Rose that featured presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, former NAACP president Ben Jealous, actor Danny Glover, and Pastor Jamal Bryant.
Sanders, in town to campaign ahead of Maryland's April 26 primary, was at the church following a much larger rally held at the Royal Farms Arena on Saturday afternoon. Amongst the attendees were diverse and eager supporters, activists, and even mayoral candidates Patrick Gutierrez and DeRay Mckesson.
After being introduced by cheers and a chant of his name, Sanders covered all of the expected topics on his platform including college tuition, healthcare, poverty, and women's rights.
"[In Sandtown-Winchester] there wasn't even a grocery store!" Sanders shouted. "How do people get fresh produce?" He then ran through his solutions for affordable housing, schools, and health clinics, what he referred to as "the things that people need to thrive and grow."
Referencing economic disparity, he told the crowd: "We are trying to bring people together. To stand up and tell the one percent that this country just doesn't belong to them. It belongs to the kids in Baltimore."
During a Q&A session, one participant asked Sanders about his political motivations, and the candidate shared with the attentive crowd why he is inspired to be an advocate for change in places like Baltimore.
"From my earliest days, I just hated to see people pushed around," Sanders said. "I hated to see people with power take advantage of people who did not have any power. And maybe when you grow up in a family that does not have a lot of money and you see people on the top with all kinds of things and the people on the bottom not being able to do stuff, it brought forth a reaction to me that said I'm going to fight that type of injustice."
All the perpetual campaigning didn't seem to slow Sanders down as he listened intently to all questions. At a couple of points in the forum, he mistakenly rose to answer questions intended for other panel members.
Sanders was stunned when Bryant mentioned that Baltimore had 70,000 heroin addicts placing his palm on the bald area of his head and saying: "Oh my god. That is unbelievable." He followed that by saying addiction is a health-related issue and not a criminal matter as Baltimore largely addresses it. [Ed. note: That number is not only unbelievable but untrue. The number is closer to 19,000 addicts, which is still a staggering number.]
Toward the end of the forum, three young people lined up behind a microphone to ask questions, yet Jealous said there was only time for two more.
The third person in line, a young African-American man with dreadlocks, was not part of the prearranged questions from the audience, but stood in line behind those chosen youth.
He extended his arms horizontally and seemed to be mouthing something to the panelists in frustration.
There were numerous Secret Service agents, including at least six on stage, that all at some point had this young man in view.
Once the girl in front of him was finished speaking, Jealous quickly stood from his chair saying: "Thank you! Have a wonderful night." But he was quickly drowned out with shouts from the crowd demanding the young man be allowed to ask his question.
The panel yielded, and the church noise decreased as the young man introduced himself.
"I'm from Baltimore, from the Sandtown-Winchester area."
The crowd cheered with many standing up to applaud him. But the audience largely fell silent, except for a few claps and shouts of support, when he asked a question full of references to L. Ron Hubburd's "Dianetics," the 13th amendment, DNA, and the Declaration of Independence. He closed with, "How can we get past all of this?"
Rose acknowledged that he had met the questioner before and said that "having dialogues and spaces like this, we can all talk about our experiences, talk about the trauma in the history of America."
Bryant referenced a book called "Posttraumatic Slave Syndrome" and the psychological impact societal dysfunction has on African American people today. Other than the occasional nod in agreement, Sanders largely was without reaction and certainly made no attempt to answer himself.
It seemed that even the notoriously cerebral Sanders can be thrown off of his game. The event concluded without further controversy.