Rev. Ira Acree, second from right, at Howard University, Vice President Kamala Harris' alma mater, on Jan. 20. Acree is pictured with (left to right) Rev. Marshall Hatch, Rev. Marshall Hatch Jr. and David Cherry. | Provided

Rev. Ira Acree, the pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin, traveled to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of President Joe Biden. He spoke with me on Friday about how the trip and why he went. 

How did it look?  

It looked like it did on TV — pretty surreal. It was like a ghost town. I was at both of President Obama’s inaugurations. The first one, in particular, stood out. The crowd was crazy. Ken Bennett [the father of Chance the rapper and a former Obama adviser] is a friend of mine and he got us tickets. What was considered a close ticket wasn’t even remotely close at Obama’s first inauguration.

But you couldn’t get close to Biden’s inauguration at all. While down there, we had two prayers: one at the National Cathedral and one at Kamala Harris’ alma mater, Howard University.  

Did you encounter Trump supporters while there? 

No. It certainly makes a difference when you have a no-nonsense type of person installed as president in Joe Biden. We know the guy is empathetic and a mature adult, which is refreshing. But one thing about Biden is, is he’s also a no-nonsense type of guy. And he made it clear. ‘I’m not going to be playing with those guys.’ 

There was one zone called the restricted area. They could call themselves protesting if they want to, but they called one restricted area the ‘kill zone.’ You guys so drunk on Trump’s politics? Over here is the kill zone. I said, ‘Man, this guy is the real deal.’ 

He’s empathetic, he wants people to get on with a normal life, he goes to prayer meetings, takes Mitch McConnell to church with him and does all these things a good person does — but he also said, ‘I’m not going to play with you guys.’ He wasn’t playing and I kind of appreciated that. 

So even though I went down there and I had some reservations and feelings of eeriness, especially after having a conversation with my wife who told me that the other pastors backed out. She asked why I was still going. I told her I thought about Dr. King. I asked myself, ‘What would King do?’ I told her I must go. My wife responded, ‘But Dr. King got killed!’ I kept telling her, yeah, but I’ll be fine. We did the right thing by going. 

Are you hopeful that the country can move past Trump?  

I’m hopeful. I am. Sometimes, the right person is in the right place at the right time and I think Joe Biden may be the right guy for the country right now.  

The flames of racism and hatred are being fanned so intensely that after dealing with a man like Trump who was an advocate for white supremacy and unashamedly white and nationalistic … I think right now, you need a man in there like Biden, who is the oldest man ever to run for president. I know in my heart that he’s gotta feel like he’s on a mission from God. 

Joe Biden knows he’s not the most educated, not the most articulate, not the most charismatic, he’s not the best communicator, but by the same token, he’s gotta feel like, ‘Man, oh man, how did I end up here?’ His story is inspiring. He’s dealt with so many blows in life. His first wife and daughter were killed over 50 years ago. Then he has one son who has died and another who is on drugs and he had personal health challenges himself, but he would not quit. 

He ran for president when I was coming out of college. In 1988, 30 years ago, when he was running for president. He lost and ran again in 2008. Lost. Now, here he is again. Old, feeble, his last hurrah and he was exactly what the country needs to be able to deal with all of these challenges he’s facing. 

He certainly wasn’t my candidate — he was really my fourth choice. But he’s the right one, because leadership matters. Leadership sets the tone.