Paint Your Own Oceans
Wow, here we are. Issue 18. I’m truly amazed at how far we’ve come in such a very short time. Against all odds and, for many of us, completely against a course that we once believed we were destined to tread many years ago.
Here we are.
In November of 2009, my old friend and former comrade-in-arms Arno Michaels reached out to me and asked me to get involved with a “little project” he’d been envisioning called Life After Hate. At that time I had just finished the draft of my memoir, Romantic Violence: Memoirs Of An American Skinhead, and subsequently caught the bug to write. I didn’t necessarily enjoy writing at the time, but it proved to be a therapeutic and soul-cleansing undertaking for me. The act of recalling deeply buried information and writing from a time and place I had abandoned many years prior was dangerous, as much as it was helpful. In short, it hurt—but it hurt in a good way.
Arno explained his vision to me: provide a platform for people to tell their stories and promote the notion of “basic human goodness.” Of course, the idea was compelling to me; so I happily agreed to contribute what I could and help spread the word about LAH. Arno went on to suggest that we start by gathering people similar to ourselves—people who had formerly led lives of hate, despair, and abuse, and invite them to tell their story. Through collective soul-bearing exercises, perhaps there would be an opportunity to learn from each other, share our own personal lessons and experiences with others facing similar struggles and, most importantly at the time, try and heal some of the wounds we’d created from years of selfishness and hate. I am so lucky and so proud that Arno sent me that email and asked me to help him launch that first issue. I am extremely proud of the work you’ve all done and thank all of you who have contributed your undying support, your precious time, and your wonderful and heartfelt stories to make Life After Hate an example of compassion and acceptance.
Life After Hate has touched so many lives and brought so many wonderfully diverse people together, and I truly believe we are doing something to help make the world a place of kindness and offering a platform to promote the truth of basic human goodness. It was a pioneering idea back in November 2009, and it’s so inspiring to me to see the trails we have blazed since then.
I would like to offer an anecdote to close this piece. It’s a personal story that has helped uplift me in the past, and I recall this experience quite often when I’m feeling down or having difficulty trying to navigate life.
I was about 21 years old and had recently left the skinhead movement. I was married, with two small kids. I was working a grueling job that I knew I was better than, but was lucky to have. I was broke and the most important people in my life, my wife and two very young children, depended on me. Life in general was a bit desperate and I was feeling overwhelmed. One particular afternoon, during a blustery winter on the South side of Chicago, I was taking out the garbage full of dirty diapers. As I walked across my condo parking lot to the community dumpsters, I noticed an odd old man sitting in the snow-covered, open parking lot of the flea market that was behind our building. Just a little old man, on a chair, sitting in a huge open lot, on a day that was cold as hell and snowing. This man intrigued me, so I approached him. As I trudged through the snow and got closer to him, I noticed he actually had an artist’s easel in front of him and he appeared to be painting something. The closer I got, I began to realize that this old man was painting a beautiful acrylic seascape with a sandy beach and big waves and seagulls and a great big blue sky. By this time he noticed I was there and he turned and greeted me. I was so bewildered (and compelled) by this man, who was sitting in a foot of snow, effortlessly painting away a tranquil summer scene in this miserable cold, that I scoffed and rudely asked why he was looking off into the grey, frozen, bleak parking lot and painting what looked like paradise. He turned to me and in a matter-of-fact voice simply said, “Young man, sometimes you have to paint your own oceans.”
Life After Hate is all of us “painting our own oceans.” Our new author this month has exemplified the idea of basic human goodness from her homeland of Rwanda all the way to Wisconsin. Ornella Umubyeyi is a preacher, public motivational speaker, a spiritual/life counsellor, a human rights activist, a Christian, a photographer, a poet, a writer, a leadership mentor and trainer, and a filmmaker while still being a college student. She’s the author of Life beyond Sight: Existing not Living, a book revealing how her relationship with God enabled a vital healing process. In I Have Learned, Ornella chronicles wisdom gathered from across the globe under the bleakest circumstances. We are truly honored to welcome this brilliant thinker to the LAH family!
Also in Issue 18: Arno and Callen Harty collaborate to capture the wonderful expression of Proud Theatre, Rockin’ the Rotunda in writing and photography. Callen and his guy Brian Wild have recently celebrated their 20th anniversary of love and togetherness, feelings clearly reflected as they lead brave LGBT youth and their straight allies to paint their own oceans on the Proud Theatre stage. Callen also reminds us why it’s important to be considerate of grievous historical wounds that have yet to be properly cared for in Strange Fruit. Lynching is a horrific shame on our country that cannot be taken lightly.
Brilliance abounds as Zek J Evets drops lethal science and logic on our misguided brothers and sisters who are desperately clinging to the construct of race and all the damage it has done. Ain’t Nothin’ But A Thang: Deconstructing Black Crime Stats For Racists soundly schools the bigoted and prejudiced, while extending an invitation to return to our great human family to all who have foolishly forsaken it.
Following a lead that began in the comment thread of a Queerty post covering the Wisconsin Gazette article on Arno Michaels, Carlford Wadley uncovers the strange and tragic phenomenon of gay Neo-Nazis in A Brief Chronicle of Nicky Crane. As conflicted as such a person may seem, Carl explains how it actually makes sense for the self-loathing of being closeted to result in violence and hatred.
Fortunately the solution of love and inclusion is beautifully plain.
Thanks to everyone who has written, illustrated, photographed, created, read, shared, and talked to make Life After Hate happen! Much love and respect to you all.
Co-Founder – Life After Hate
Christian Picciolini was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, in a working-class town called Blue Island, the birthplace of the American white power skinhead movement in the mid 1980s. At 14 years old, Picciolini became entrenched in the first neo-Nazi skinhead gang in the United States and began mingling with members almost twice his age. From tattoos to weapons, brawls to drunken rallies to political aspirations, Picciolini immersed himself in the racist skinhead culture at an early age and quickly became one of the movement’s most respected leaders. In 2012, Picciolini completed his autobiographical manuscript Romantic Violence: Memoirs Of An American Skinhead, in order to illustrate how shockingly easily a well-adapted, abundantly loved kid from a good immigrant family became a pioneer and leader in the early American racist skinhead movement. He was the lead singer in the first white power band from the United States to ever leave the country and play in Europe. He attended and spoke at KKK rallies, was kicked out of five different high schools, and stockpiled weapons so, if necessary, he’d be ready to fight the United States government to protect the white race from annihilation. By the time his skinhead involvement destroyed his first marriage, he had already realized the hollowness and rancor of the movement. He went on to earn a degree in International Business and International Relations from DePaul University in Chicago, started his own global record label (Sinister Muse Records) and artist development/brand innovation firm (Goldmill Group), and was appointed a member of the Chicago Grammy Rock Music Committee. In 2010 and 2011, he was nominated for three regional Emmy Awards for his role as Executive Producer and General Manager of JBTV, one of America’s longest-running, independent and nationally broadcast music television programs. He is currently an Adjunct Professor at Tribeca Flashpoint Academy and the Community Partnerships Manager at Threadless, a company that combines a thriving online art community with a highly successful e-commerce business model. Threadless was recently named "the most innovative small company in America" by Inc. Magazine. Christian’s writings have been published in Alternative Press magazine and on his personal blog entitled Inveniam Viam Aut Faciam. In early 2010, he co-founded and became Executive Board Chairman of Life After Hate, a monthly non-profit online literary magazine and personal outreach organization dedicated to promoting peace, diversity, character development and basic human goodness. He is currently the Executive Director of Life After Hate.