Tomorrow at 7 p.m., former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will speak in the Eastern Michigan University Student Center Ballroom at an event hosted by the student organization Black Leaders Aspiring for Critical Knowledge. As I’m sure you can imagine, this impeding talk about “second chances” has caused quite a stir on campus.
Why are we letting him speak? Why would they invite him to speak? The man is a crook; he better not be getting any university money for this. Those are all phrases I’m sure you’ve heard since news broke about the event two weeks ago.
Those are fair questions and fair comments. But this columnist thinks it’s a good thing. Kilpatrick is coming to EMU.
First, we don’t censor student organizations. B.L.A.C.K. invited Kilpatrick; if you don’t want to see him, don’t go to the talk. We’ve had atheists, sex columnists, communists and pro-Life speakers. We’ve heard about safe sex and Apartheid.
The only way you can ensure we get free and open discussion on campus is to ensure anyone who is invited can speak. No one is forcing you to listen. If B.L.A.C.K. thinks he has a message worth hearing, I support its decision to bring him to campus.
Second, Kilpatrick might not deserve a second chance, but this is not a second chance. Talking at EMU is not the same thing as being elected mayor of Detroit again. We aren’t vindicating him by giving him an hour of our time.
Even if every bad thing you’ve ever heard about him is true, he might still have something worth hearing.
In fact, sometimes it is the worst among us who have the most interesting things to say. Hearing someone out does not mean you support him or her, and it doesn’t mean you forgive him or her.
It takes character to let your enemies have the floor. Kilpatrick might be a bad guy who did wrong by Detroit, but if he’s as bad as you think he is, he won’t be able to change anyone’s mind about him, so you needn’t worry.
You also shouldn’t worry this talk will tarnish the reputation of the university.
Kilpatrick is not speaking at commencement or at the Martin Luther King, Jr. luncheon. The university is not holding him up as an example for the campus; a student organization is bringing him to campus to talk to a voluntary audience.
But most importantly, Kilpatrick should speak because redemption begins with a single step. B.L.A.C.K. is bringing him to EMU to talk about second chances and the road to redemption, and we all have to be big enough people to listen and maybe even learn from it.
Michael Vick tortured innocent animals, spent less than two years in jail and is now carrying on in the NFL like nothing ever happened. And people are cheering.
Bill Clinton had an affair in the White House and committed perjury about it, yet he’s an example of better days in America right now.
The lesson from those two stories is not Kilpatrick’s situation is the same or everyone deserves forgiveness, but rather we have to let sinners try for redemption.
There is nothing more celebrated in America than a great comeback story. We don’t have to let Kilpatrick make a comeback, but we do need to let him try. It’s the only way we can be sure those deserving of second chances get a shot to win us back.
Kilpatrick made mistakes, and he made a lot of them. But we must afford him the chance to make things right. The journey begins with a single act; a talk at EMU could be that act.
Kwame Kilpatrick is coming to EMU tomorrow night. You can ignore him, you can listen to him or you can protest him in any way you see fit. No one is forcing you to listen, but a group of students on this campus want to hear what he has to say, so stand aside for their sakes.
Better yet, challenge yourself and go hear what he has to say. Even the worst among us can teach us important lessons.