By Jerome Stuart Nichols | Life Editor
Added November 27, 2011 at 10:13 pm
When it was announced that troubled former mayor of Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick would be bringing his message of redemption to Eastern Michigan University’s campus, the reaction was intense and immediate.
The initial feedback was overwhelmingly anti-Kilpatrick. But as time has progressed, a pro Kilpatrick minority has immerged to combat the adversity against EMU, and Black Leaders Aspiring for Critical Knowledge, the student organization who is behind Kwame’s speaking engagement.
For their part, B.L.A.C.K. has been intriguingly silent on the public’s reaction. They have yet to comment publicly about the events that have occurred in the wake of The Eastern Echo breaking the story on Nov. 18. That is until now.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, The Echo sat down with five key members from B.L.A.C.K., Nicholas Patterson, Aaron Brown, Antonio Cooper, Brian Nwagwu and Benoris Carter to get their views on the controversy, their group, and the event.
One of the main complaints from the public is that they simply do not get the purpose of bringing Kilpatrick to campus.
According to the leaders of B.L.A.C.K., the purpose of the student organization is to help men better themselves by gaining critical knowledge. They plan to achieve this goal by using B.L.A.C.K. as a knowledge collective where men and women of all races can come and share their knowledge and experiences with the group.
In keeping with that goal, they are bringing Kilpatrick to EMU to speak about redemption and second chances.
“We believe that with bringing Kwame, it’s showing people that if you’ve made mistakes in that past, you can take steps to correcting them,” said Benoris Carter, the public relations officer for B.L.A.C.K. “This program is centered towards freshmen, like me. One’s that got in trouble…”
The group believes that, although controversial, Kilpatrick has a lot to offer the students of EMU.
“Take away Kwame and just listen to the message,” Carter said. The message is saying that whatever happened, whatever obstacles, they could be educational, personal or legal, you can overcome them.”
There have been few complaints about the content of Kilpatrick’s speech. But some worry that Kilpatrick may be using this supposedly altruistic event as a means to seek sympathy. B.L.A.C.K. suggests that this is simply fear mongering from those opposing Kilpatrick’s visit.
“Kwame isn’t coming for validation from EMU, he’s coming to speak about redemption. Someone has had to forgive him… He could come to speak about how he got redemption from his wife or his mother,” Patterson said.
“He’s not coming asking for our opinion on his redemption… This is not Kwame Kilpatrick asking for your redemption, or a second chance,” said Carter. “This is Kwame Kilpatrick talking about second chances and redemption.”
B.L.A.C.K. president, Nicholas Patterson, said the group have had a chance to preview the content of the speech. But declined to speak further on the topic by saying, “You’ll have to come and see.”
Bernoris Carter expanded upon Patterson’s statement.
“Come Nov. 29th, 7 p.m., Student Center ballroom, doors open at six. Bring a canned good and a school supply. Bring your ID, no flash photography. ”
With a message of empowerment, the group feels that the public’s reaction has been unfair.
“Our general impression [of the public’s reaction] has been that it’s not fair, it’s not just… People have been attacking the guest and not really looking into the program or looking into the actual message of the program,” Carter said. “They’ve tried to devalue us. We’ve tried to take the correct approach to everything by not responding. Because we’re here to do one thing, and that is to put a good program on. ”
Brian Nwagwu, liaison for B.L.A.C.K., said, “We’re judging this man off of his past, but… we’ll tell somebody else not to judge [us].”
“For you to come and attack us personally, call us criminals, morons, I haven’t read all of [the comments] but I wouldn’t be surprised if the
‘n-word’ was to drop. Even with that, it doesn’t bother me because I know who I am as a person and I know who we are as ten young black men. We’re none of those things.”
Undaunted by the comments on message boards and comment sections, the ten members of B.L.A.C.K. urges the public to use their energy is ways that feel would be more productive.
“At the end of the day, Kwame is going to come, he’s going to speak, and he’s going to go back home to Texas,” said Aaron Brown, community services coordinator for the student organization. “All this energy that going into stopping Kwame, use it to make the Detroit better. Instead of protesting, we are having a canned food drive and collecting school supplies. Regardless of how you feel about Kwame that’s going to make the city better, which should be the main focus.
Let’s be honest, even if he pays the restitution back, the city is still going to need help. Eight hundred-thousand dollars is not going to make Detroit into a utopia.”
Although B.L.A.C.K. has maintained a unified stance of the event, some critics wonder if the group chose Kilpatrick as simply for the potential press attention. The group unanimously denies.
“We didn’t plan for it to go this big,” Patterson said. “We planned for a small program.”
Even though they claim to be shocked by the magnitude backlash, the group also feels that they could not have avoided controversy when choosing public figures to speak on redemption.
“Everyone is going to have their views. If we would have brought somebody else, someone would have said something,” said Patterson. “If we would have brought Mike Vick we would have had PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) outside.”
Some people have been directly scrutinizing EMU for bringing Kilpatrick to their campus. B.L.A.C.K. clarified this misconception in their initial statement to The Eastern Echo on Nov. 20, and again in our follow-up conversation.
“The school had nothing to do with bringing [Kilpatrick] here,” said Patterson, Carter, and Brown, in unison. Carter continued, “The school was kind of surprised when they found out.”
“Lawyered up and everything,” Nwangu said.
That point leads some to wonder how B.L.A.C.K. got Kilpatrick to come speak and whether or not he is being financially benefited from the event.
“We covered his plane ticket and he’s here,” Patterson said.
This goes to show you that he’s not getting personal gain, no financial gain, so his message is being conveyed in a genuine manner,” Carter said.
A recent concern that has been on the minds of the EMU student body has been safety of the event. A controversial figure, such as Kilpatrick, could inspire extreme behavior from those who oppose his appearance.
When asked about the possibility for violence or dramatic outbursts, President Nicholas Patterson said, “We are well prepared for any events that could occur on the twenty-ninth.”
When asked if he would like to clarify that statement, he simply said, “No.”
When it comes to the protestors who have vowed to make their voices heard outside of EMU’s student center, B.L.A.C.K.’s views are more clear.
“They have a right to be there. So we’re going to proceed with our event,” Patterson said.
“I just hope that they drop off a canned good or school supply before they hold their sign,” Brown said.
Although there have been no official reports, there has been rumors circulating that some EMU alumni and benefactors threatened to pull their contributions to the university. Concerning that possibility, B.L.A.C.K. member Aaron Brown said, “You’ve got 20,000 students that go here.
You’re not going to agree with everything everyone does. I think it’s wrong, at an institution of higher learning, to use your monetary influence what people see and what people hear. If you want to give to EMU, give to EMU because you love EMU.”
Although Kilpatrick is the first, B.L.A.C.K. promises he will not be the last speaker they invite to speak on the topic of redemption. However, they stopped short of announcing their next speaker.
“We are currently planning [our next event] now,” Patterson said. “We don’t want to reveal the name now, count our eggs before they hatch. But we are looking for people that are on the road to redemption or have redeemed themselves.”
It has yet to be seen what will happen on Nov. 29 when Kwame Kilpatrick arrives to complete his controversial appearance at Eastern Michigan University. But, all eyes are going to be on B.L.A.C.K. and EMU to see what happens.
The Eastern Echo will be on hand inside and outside of the venue providing exclusive coverage and insights. To follow the live blogging event, follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Also look for more complete coverage online at www.easternecho.com and in print on Thursday, Dec. 1.