“Cause now I’m in the Ashton/ I went from havin’ my city locked up to gettin’ treated like Kwame Kilpatrick.”
This is a line from the hit song “Lighters,” from hip-hop duo Royce da 5’9 and Eminem featuring crooner Bruno Mars. Now Kilpatrick finds his name popping up again as controversy surrounds his upcoming arrival to Eastern Michigan University.
An Eastern Echo article reported, “embattled former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is scheduled to speak about ‘redemption and second chances’ Nov. 29 in the Eastern Michigan University Student Center Ballroom at an event put together by a student organization.”
The article goes on to detail B.L.A.C.K., Black Leaders Aspiring for Critical Knowledge, put together the event where Kilpatrick will speak to “increase awareness of second chances.”
Kilpatrick’s incoming arrival to campus has attracted fiery reactions as to whether he should be allowed to speak at EMU. While I stop short of a vehement “No,” I certainly think allowing Kilpatrick to speak is unwise and a poor choice for B.L.A.C.K.’s objectives.
At this point, one might wonder what Kilpatrick – former popular mayor of Detroit – did to inspire such a passionate response to his forthcoming speech and, indeed, get his name dropped in a high-profile rap song.
An Atlanta Post article from Aug. 2 remembered: “Kilpatrick was convicted of obstruction of justice in 2008 after admitting to lying about an extramarital affair during a lawsuit brought against him by police officials. While on parole for his obstruction of justice conviction, it was discovered Kilpatrick had hidden assets in violation of his parole. Kilpatrick was imprisoned in May 2010 for this violation, and has served 14 months out of a possible five years.”
A New York Times article from Aug. 19 points out he, in conjunction with others close to him, “were indicted by the federal government on 38 counts of extortion, bribery, fraud and racketeering.” The federal trials on these charges will be heard in court around September of 2012.
While I am certainly sympathetic to B.L.A.C.K.’s appeal for second chances, why Kwame Kilpatrick? There are three distinct issues with Kilpatrick as the poster child for second chances.
First, Kilpatrick is still embroiled in controversy. As previously detailed, the new, severe charges against him have yet to be sorted out. Given the potential for Kilpatrick to be found lying, as he has been in the past, his pleas for redemption are undermined. If anything, if once again convicted, the lesson we should take from Kilpatrick is the precise opposite of what he is proposing: we should not give second chances. Obviously, this is counterproductive to B.L.A.C.K.’s intent.
Second, what has Kilpatrick done to demonstrate he truly is interested in redemption? It is alleged he made money by essentially stealing from Detroit. At the very least, he has achieved national infamy at the expense of Detroit and Michigan at large. Perhaps if Kilpatrick had developed a charity for impoverished Detroit youth, his turnaround might look a bit more genuine. Instead, his response is to release a book paying lip service to “redemption” and “second chances.”
As the cliché adage goes: “Actions speak louder than words.”
Finally, as the previously cited Echo article reports, B.L.A.C.K. president, Nicholas Patterson, said, “Mr. Kilpatrick is the perfect person to speak about second chances.”
What is this claim based on? Surely there are other people who have been convicted of egregious crimes who have gone on to show beautiful displays of redemption. Unfortunately, Kilpatrick’s name has become the emphasis of B.L.A.C.K.’s event because, at least for now, his name is synonymous with corrupt politics, not second chances.
“Lighters” received mass radio play when it was released and I always smile when Royce da 5’9 drops Kilpatrick’s name.
Unfortunately, the purpose of the name drop was not to signal the need for second chances. No, it was used to let the audience understand the surefire loneliness that comes with controversy. However, we should pause to reflect on what Kilpatrick did to inspire such controversy and what he has done – or not done – to change his image.