On April 4, 2012, Life after Hate’s Arno Michaels and Frankie Meeink visited Cascade and Pacific Academies in Beaverton, Oregon. I invited them to our school because I firmly believe that learning through other people’s stories can help foster understanding and provide hope for the future, even to a person who lives a life that seems to be overflowing with adversity. Many of the students we serve have just that type of life. The details of everyone’s life may be very different, but the quintessential similarity is this: we are all humans being, and change can happen.
These are some of the things that the students learned–the seeds that were planted–through Arno and Frankie’s visit:
“Life is worth living, even if you’ve made a mistake.”
“You really made me realize that I need to stop calling myself stupid.”
“They don’t try to act or talk like they’re angels. They’re real and chill and have a lot of feedback. They showed me that (I shouldn’t) care about what other people think of me–the only thing that matters is what I think of me.”
“They are original and don’t act hard. They said that if you are hard you don’t have to act hard, but just know you are.”
“I was surprised that they both gave me a hug as they were leaving. I could tell they really cared.”
“I think the most important thing I learned is that no matter how bad your life may be it can be turned around for the better.”
“I didn’t think I would relate to Arno and Frankie at all. I’ve never drank, done drugs or been in any kind of gang at all. But then they started talking about their childhoods and how they were angry and bitter. They escaped that by joining the skinheads who came around them and supported them and told them who was responsible for all that anger: Jews, Blacks, Latinos, etc. This shocked me because the child they were describing wasn’t just them, it used to be me. It was kind of scary because looking back, I could easily see my younger self going in the direction that they did because of my anger and bitterness. It made me grateful for my family which forced help upon me. It kind of freaked me out because I saw an alternate version of me.”
“Their presentation and lives are so inspirational! I’m so thankful that they came to talk to our school and share what they have learned in life so far. By doing this, they have saved many lives. LIVE TO LOVE”
“Hate breeds more hate.”
“Kindness has strength.”
“During the presentation at our school, when you were discussing about your childhoods, I realized that I have a mix of both of your experiences. I’ve been asked to and have done things I’m not proud of. Before you came, I was thinking about going back to my old ways. But you both showed me I can accomplish great things. Thank you for planting this positive seed. I hope in time I can accomplish great triumphs as you have accomplished. Maybe our paths will cross yet again.”
“Everyone has their problems, difficulties and hardships. All of us have lessons to learn. I learned always put family 1st above all else.”
“I should never be mean to anyone just because of how they look, sound or act. I can only hope everyone realizes this lesson someday.”
“They helped me realize there are very few things when violence is necessary to get a point across.”
“They made me realize I have a couple seeds of my own. I can get real nasty when I’m angry and hurt people. They were helping me learn from their own mistakes.”
“I learned that there is hope for violence to change.”
“I felt like a seed was planted in me when you guys talked about compassion. I treated people a little nicer and I felt better. So thank you.”
“When you came to our school, you could say that you watered my seed. You showed me that even people who have done bad things can do the right thing. That inspired me to do the next right thing. I thank you for that.”
“One thing I learned was it is natural to dislike someone, but it is also natural to care for someone… no matter what sexuality, race, gender, etc. they happen to be.”
“I learned that you can always find something in common with someone.”
“The one seed that’s been planted in my memory is the story about “Lil G” and how he said that you shouldn’t always focus on the negative things in life–which is something I need to learn not to do, because I am a huge pessimist and need to be a happier person.”
“What I got out of your presentation is it’s not okay to pick on people. Yes, we’ve all made mistakes. But now it’s time to change. It’s time to move on. Everyone makes mistakes–you just have to learn not to make that same mistake again.”
“People can change over time… no matter how bad of a person they were.”
“Believe in yourself and let your spirit shine through!”
I began my campaign to bring Arno and Frankie out to our school by writing this as part of a grant application:
“Our students need to know that change is possible–and no matter what they’ve been through or what they’ve done–their past does not have to become their future. They can start to believe this by learning through other people’s stories.
Having Arno and Frankie share their stories would give our students two very powerful examples of how change can happen. They will learn that it is possible to take a life that was full of hate and violence and transform it into a strength that can then be used to create a future of hope and compassion not only for themselves, but also the world.
Our students need to know that their stories have yet to be written, and that they truly have the power to determine what that story will be.”
As I typed out the students’ comments, it became very clear to me that the goal of what I had hoped the students would gain from this experience was exponentially exceeded. The explanations of the seeds of compassion and hope that were planted within the hearts and minds of our students speak for themselves. This experience will continue to ripple out and effect positive changes in the lives of everyone involved, and the world around us, forever.
Mission accomplished!…. Or, is it just beginning?
"I graduated from Arizona State University in December 2000 with a B.A. in Special Education. Also in December of 2000 I moved from Arizona to Portland, Oregon. I earned a Masters degree in Educational Leadership from Concordia University in 2007. During my 11 + years of teaching, all but one year has been in an alternative education setting. I work with students who have emotional and behavioral challenges, and absolutely love it. This is my third year working for Northwest Regional Educational Service District’s Cascade Academy. My goal is to help the students learn that there are no limits to what they can accomplish in their lives. Anything is possible—and great things happen!"