No one wanted to talk about the civil rights record of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’, Senator Elizabeth Warren told parishioners Sunday morning at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Roxbury.
“No one got up and said, ‘The facts that Coretta Scott King identified are wrong,’ ” said Warren, speaking about how she was prevented last week during a Senate debate about Sessions’ candidacy from reading a letter by King. “No one got up to defend his record and what he has done in the years since. All they said was, ‘Be silent, be silent, be silent.’ ”
Teenagers sitting in the pews, seven of whom were individually recognized later in the service for their accomplishments, said they heard Warren’s message: Don’t be silent.
Emma DiMarino, a senior at St. Joseph Preparatory High School in Boston who takes all honors and advanced placement courses, said she wants to become an attorney or do other political advocacy work.
“As Elizabeth was talking about: having a voice for the voiceless,” said DiMarino, 17, of Roxbury. “I want to be that person to speak out and keep speaking out about these issues — especially for African-Americans, especially for women.”
Darianna Young, a17-year-old senior at the Community Charter School of Cambridge, said Warren was “brave to stand up for what she believed in.”
“We have an attorney general who is clearly biased and no one wants to say anything,” said Young, of Dorchester, who was raised by a single mother after her father died when she was 2.
When you stay silent, she said, “You just let terrible things happen over and over.”
Warren told the congregation that despite her dismay over the other Trump cabinet picks, “the one that was like a spear to my heart was an attorney general of the United States — our chief law enforcement officer — who has a history of having targeted African-Americans who were activists, trying to help elderly black voters vote.”
“I believe that the Lord calls on us to speak, and I believe he calls on us to speak together,” she said.
Parishioners gathered around Warren after her remarks, chatting and posing for photos.
As a lifelong teacher — including time as a Sunday school teacher — Warren said she had never harbored political ambitions until she “felt the call” and decided to run for Senate.
“Church is in her blood,” said Anthony Brewer, a trustee with the Columbus Avenue church who directed Warren’s faith-based initiatives during her first senate campaign.
Brewer said the Senate’s decision to prevent Warren from reading King’s letter was “a hush of the truth.”
“To silence that message — to me — suggests a hidden agenda, because [Warren] is speaking truth to power,” said the Rev. Kevin Coakley.
Boston City Council President Michelle Wu, who tweeted criticism of the decision to prevent Warren from reading King’s letter, accompanied Warren to the service.
Following Warren’s remarks, Stephen Whalen, managing partner at City Realty Group in Brookline, and Coakley spoke to the congregation about seven of its high school seniors: DiMarino and Young, along with Cornelius “Neil” Prioleau of Boston Latin Academy; Aaron Shariff of Boston Latin School, Timothy Riddick of Fenway High School, Makeyla Hayes of Boston Trinity Academy, and Malik Bailey of Milton High School.
In connection with the real estate firm’s City Kids nonprofit, which aims to expand educational opportunities for children of City Realty Group tenants, the seven students were each given donated laptop computers. The group was then given a $5,000 scholarship, to be divided among the students, by the William C. Dukes trust.
The students said they have grown up together as members of the church and that it felt wonderful to be recognized for their educational and community achievements.
“Everybody in my community expects a lot of me, so I want to be able to make everybody proud,” said Riddick, 17, of Dorchester. The young entrepreneur co-owns a sneaker customization and restoration business.
Hayes, a 17-year-0ld competitive swimmer from Hyde Park who wants to become a bilingual child psychologist, said the current state of civil rights feels like a step backward. But hearing Warren speak to her and her childhood friends at their church, she is still hopeful.
“Working together as a community, we can all promote a change in the end,” said Hayes.Nicole Fleming can be reached at email@example.com.