“If you don’t give it [forgiveness], just know I’ve already forgiven myself,” said former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick as he delivered a lecture at Eastern Michigan University about “second chances and redemption” to a crowd of approximately 600 people in the Student Center Ballroom.
“I know I’m a hip hop mayor and they call me a thug and a criminal,” he said. “Most of what you know about me is not me at all.”
Kilpatrick, who is currently facing several federal charges, told the audience he didn’t come to EMU looking for anyone’s forgiveness or approval.
“When you forgive someone, you have to forgive them for everything,” he said. “First of all…You can’t give me another chance. I’m not asking you to.”
Kilpatrick commended the EMU student organization B.L.A.C.K. for having the “tenacity” to bring him to campus.
Kilpatrick said B.L.A.C.K.’s President Nicholas Patterson reached out to him one evening in Detroit after an event. Kilpatrick exchanged contact information with Patterson and shortly after, he asked the former mayor if he would be interested in speaking at EMU.
“People like me all over everywhere else,” Kilpatrick said. “I told him, ‘if you invite me, the state’s going to have a problem.’”
Initially, Patterson told Kilpatrick the administration wouldn’t let him come.
“I said it was alright,” Kilpatrick said. “Nicholas said, ‘we’re not stopping. We believe this is something we want at this university.”
Eventually, the event was given a green light by university officials and arrangements were made to have Kilpatrick speak. The group paid for Kilpatrick’s airfare which amounted to about $400.
“It’s good to be back home,” Kilpatrick said. “I appreciate being at a series called second chances. Second chances isn’t a real notion. All of y’all have had second chances. Before we get a second chance, we have to reach out when nobody reached out. Being here tonight you are engaging and doing something that no one else thought to do.”
Kilpatrick didn’t agree with the criticism the university and the student organization faced because of his appearance and he compared it to the adversity Martin Luther King faced.
“I know the scrutiny the university has been under is something, “he said. “When you step up to do something and you’re daring to be different, folks don’t like it and they’re afraid to join you. All the people that you read about and celebrate in your history classes, during those times, those heroes were maligned by their peers. No one wanted Martin Luther King around. When he was walking this earth, he was maligned… spit on.”
EMU junior Michelle Carter said Kilpatrick and the group faced “just criticism and opposition.”
“I came here with an open mind and left with a bad taste in my mouth,” she said. “Instead of speaking about how he plans to seek redemption and how he’s utilizing this second chance, he came across as cocky and unchanged.”
Freshman Carla Brown disagreed with Carter and said Kilpatrick is seeking redemption by “taking back his life from haters.”
“I disagree with all of the people that don’t like him,” Brown said. “Kilpatrick is definitely on the road to redemption. I think the big step was realizing that he can’t make everyone happy which is what he said.”
Kilpatrick said no matter what, it’s virtually impossible to make everyone happy at the same time.
“You never black enough for black folks,” he said. “You never white enough for white folks.”
During his speech, Kilpatrick touched on how he believes the media has only portrayed the negative and “sexy” aspects of his story—particularly the house he recently purchased. Even so, Kilpatrick said he’s “happy” and isn’t bothered by “biased” media coverage any longer.
“What drives people crazy is seeing [me] happy,” he said. “… There are some people that don’t like you just because. I’m not a politician anymore. I don’t care. I’m happy. It don’t matter what they say. The Wayne County prosecutor said I’m too damn happy. What does that even mean? If you look at the morning shows, they just make you mad. People tell me I’m on the news still, but it has no bearing on me.”
Kilpatrick shared one important lesson learned while being incarcerated.
“You cannot allow the past to control your destiny,” he said. “If you don’t do anything else, just remember that.”