RICHMOND -- Kwame Kilpatrick came with a message: You can rise after you fall.
"I'm here hopefully to share with you some of the things I've gone through, some of the bad decisions that I've made," the former Detroit mayor said. "And I'm also here to share with you that you can still have a strategy for success."
Kilpatrick, who became a national figure in 2001 as the youngest person ever elected mayor of Detroit, delivered an afternoon speech in Richmond's City Council chambers to more than 80 people, including about 10 young men in the city's Office of Neighborhood Safety fellowship program that is focused on turning them away from crime.
Kilpatrick knows about rising and falling and facing the long arm of the law. His larger-than-life persona and "hip hop mayor" fame turned into infamy when sundry scandals forced him from office in 2008 and sent him to prison for 14 months for obstruction of justice.
Kilpatrick's visit came during a weekend break from his current trial in U.S. District Court in Detroit, where he faces 36 federal charges that include allegations he orchestrated racketeering, bribery and fraud while in office. Kilpatrick, 42, has maintained his innocence. He faces up to 30 years in prison.
His appearance Saturday was sponsored by the ONS and the National Forum for Black Public Administrators at a cost of $3,000, ONS Director Devone Boggan said.
"(Kilpatrick's) story of redemption and hope against
Kilpatrick wore a brown jacket and jeans Saturday, a far cry from the 1½-carat diamond earrings and dapper suits that graced his 6-foot-4 frame at the height of his power. In remarks that lasted more than an hour, Kilpatrick spoke of his childhood in 1970s and '80s Detroit, urban violence, peer pressure, neighborhood social dynamics and the need for inner city youths to benefit from travel and higher education.
He admitted that he perjured himself in court when he denied sending and receiving sexually-explicit text messages to a paramour while in office and talked extensively about what he learned in prison.
"It was in prison, when I was totally alone for the first time in my life, that I decided I needed to change my life," Kilpatrick said, setting his eyes on the young men clustered together near the back of the room. "You have to find yourself, figure out who you are outside of your clique."
Kilpatrick's visit followed a meeting at a conference in Virginia, when some of the ONS fellows -- young men who join the city program and are paid small stipends in exchange for meeting a range of education and employment goals and refraining from criminal activity -- met Kilpatrick during a trip and were impressed with his wisdom, style and back story, Boggan said.
About 50 young men and boys who have been identified as high-risk potential offenders or victims are currently enrolled in the city's program, Boggan said. Richmond is on pace for its lowest annual homicide total in decades.
Kilpatrick was received warmly by those in attendance. His appearance in Richmond was not widely publicized, and few knew he was coming outside of ONS staff and neighborhood leaders.
Some criticized the city for bringing such a maligned figure to town to talk to young people.
"I'm upset that ONS brought Kilpatrick to Richmond to speak to youth given his history of corrupt politics in Detroit," said Richmond resident Jose Lopez.
But Kilpatrick and his audience were perfectly paired on Saturday. He called Boggan "the smoothest brother on the planet" and praised ONS as not just an anti-violence program but also a political and social movement that draws on latent energy in inner cities.
"ONS is a movement," Kilpatrick said. "You can get the people that the police and the politicians have never talked to."
ONS has had its successes but also its critics, many of whom accuse the program of coddling violent offenders and paying criminals to not commit crimes.
But Kilpatrick called ONS a "critical" approach at a time when the United States has become "an incarceration society" and urged staff and supporters to press on.
"Without innovative approaches like ONS," Kilpatrick said, "we are just feeding a broken system."