Sen. Barack Obama's former pastor has begun speaking out since he found himself at the center of national attention for controversial opinions he had expressed in the past.
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright is speaking Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. On Sunday night, he received a standing ovation from the NAACP in Detroit, where he addressed about 12,000 people on the topic "a change is going to come."
It's a theme picked by the NAACP's Detroit branch for its Freedom Fund Dinner, an annual event bringing together 10,000 members for what's touted as the world's largest sit-down dinner. Celebrities including Vivica Fox and Soledad O'Brien flew into Detroit for the weekend's festivities.
Past keynote speakers at the dinner include both former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Clinton. But this year, the huge crowd gathered to hear Wright, who has been pilloried in the media.
Wright let the audience know within a few minutes that he hasn't been silenced by the controversy, publicly correcting a local Republican politician who called him divisive.
"I am not divisive," Wright said. "Tell him the word is 'descriptive' — I described the conditions in this country. Conditions divide, not my descriptions."
Wright became a controversial figure when his remarks on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and race relations hit the media. They've been played nearly nonstop, generating sufficient furor to prompt Obama to repudiate the remarks and distance himself from his former pastor.
During last night's speech, Wright threw a few jabs at conservative political pundits. But he spent most of his time talking about the differences between black and white culture — including the historical role of race in the church.
"I come from a religious tradition that did not hold slaves but preached against slavery and worked to end slavery," Wright said. "I come from a religious tradition that fought against lynching, like the NAACP; fought against discrimination, like the NAACP."
But Wright also talked about the changes needed to heal the nation. "Many of us finally are committed to changing this world that we live in, so our children and our grandchildren will have a world in which to live in, to grow in, to learn in, to love in and to pass on to their children," he said.
As the crowd filed out of the convention center, support for Wright was strong.
Detroit resident Marvin Cooke hasn't decided who he'll support for president but says he has heard enough about Wright's remarks in the presidential campaign.
"It's almost like when you're eating fish — are you looking for bones, or are you looking for meat?" Cooke said. "There was more meat than bones tonight, but it depends on what you're looking for."
That is a sentiment echoed by Delisha Coleman, who wore her Sunday best to watch Wright's speech.
"When you look for something negative, you will find it," Coleman said. "If they wanted to look for something different, they've had plenty of opportunity. And even in this speech, there's been plenty of opportunity to look for the good. I just don't believe certain parts of America [are] willing or ready for that change."
Shortly after Sunday night's speech in Detroit, Wright left to catch a plane for Washington, D.C., to address the National Press Club.
Jerome Vaughn of Detroit Public Radio reports.