A Time For Hope
I write this editorial under the weight of a heart filled with sadness and grief; this has been a month fueled by discrimination, hatred, and wrought with devastating acts of violence leveled against all manner of individuals—from young to old, individuals of different religions, cultures and backgrounds, our fellow human beings. Many of us find ourselves asking questions like, “When will it end?”; “Why wasn’t there some sort of preemptive measure?”; and an equally important question, “What can we do?” Even though my heart labors to digest the sadness and grief, I know, in the very fiber of my being, that this is a time for hope.
In collecting my thoughts for this editorial, I admit that I struggled. I questioned what direction to take and what events should be included. Is it okay to write about the struggles the LGBTQ community is facing and devastating acts of violence? Does it make sense to mention the increasing turmoil in Pakistan, the dissension in Syria, and the continuing violence playing out in inner-city neighborhoods? What about the disparity in media coverage of the Aurora, CO, and Oak Creek, WI, shootings, respectively? Or the fact that the US government has turned a blind eye to domestic, far-right terrorists operating in its own backyard because it has become obsessed with persecuting Muslims, and in some cases, promoting Islamophobia?
After much soul searching, I came to the realization that there need not be a comparison, per se, because all of the above mentioned, despite antagonist or protagonist, are acts of dehumanization. History has repeatedly taught us this lesson: first we classify those who are in some way unlike us as ‘other’; we then attach negative symbolism to the ‘other’ based on perceived differences; we then arrive at a point where ‘other’ is stripped of all human value, leaving something so unfamiliar that it then becomes okay to treat ‘other’ less than humanely. I oftentimes wonder how many human lives will be shattered before this invaluable life-lesson sticks.
Over the past month in the US, it has been nearly impossible not to notice the controversy brewing around the LGBTQ community and those who are opposed to marriage equality. We’ve even seen well-known corporations advocating one way or the other. What many fail to realize, though, is that this controversy is not a debate about personal belief; it is about the dehumanization of a whole group of human beings—from incidents of LGBTQ individuals being beaten and murdered, to burning cereal boxes, to an individual walking into the office of an organization that opposes marriage equality and opening fire on a security guard. Whether one believes in marriage equality or a particular idea of sexuality, it is not okay to advocate the loss of human rights or to commit violence in the name of those beliefs.
As this controversy continues to play out, many of us find ourselves asking questions like, “How do we lead the way to compassion for all human beings?”
In the past month alone, we have seen a surge of violence in places like Pakistan, Syria, Myanmar (Burma), and countless other locations around the world. Each day, I fearfully open my email inbox and my social network pages with the worry that I might have lost a dear friend to an act of terrorism or other localized violence. And if I carry this daily fear in my heart, I can’t imagine how one must feel to reside in a location caught within this narrative—a narrative that is becoming so common it has become easy for those not in the midst of it to ignore.
And some of us find ourselves asking questions like, “How do we inspire empathy and compassion in individuals who are far-removed from the effects of war, poverty, and terrorism?”
On July 20, 2012, a man opened fire at a midnight screening of the film the Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO. With the use of multiple firearms as well as teargas, the man killed 12 human beings and injured 58 more. A massive outpouring of solidarity and love was heard from around the world. As details about the suspect came to light, the world learned that signs of the possibility of violence manifested before the shooting occurred.
And we ask ourselves, “Why wasn’t there some sort of preemptive measure?”
On August 5, 2012, a man opened fire at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI, killing 6 human beings and wounding 3 more before killing himself during a shootout with police. As more details emerged, we learned that the man was a known white supremacist—a racist skinhead with ties to the hate music scene and white power movement in the US. It is yet unknown whether or not the gunman targeted the Sikh temple purposely, or possibly mistook it for a Muslim place of worship. We may never know the motive.
And we find ourselves asking, “How can we prevent such atrocities?”
Beyond the devastating events listed above, it’s sometimes easy to forget what’s happening in our own towns and cities, especially the areas we so casually avoid. What about the forgotten communities where human beings are killing one another over drugs, territory, money, colors, and countless other reasons? Or the children struggling to rise above the negativity that surrounds them only to be sent the message that they simply do not count to the larger community or to those with the power and affluence to make positive changes?
And again, some of us find ourselves asking questions like, “When will it end?” and “Why is this so?”
The answer to these questions find their beginning and end within each of us. Regardless of race, culture, religious affiliation, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual/gender identity, and any other characteristic we use to separate and define ourselves as human beings—we all have the innate power to be the change we want to see in the world around us. Each and every one of us has the ability to learn about as well as teach our fellow human beings love, kindness, compassion, empathy, and human goodness. We must teach these qualities with purpose, not just because they sound good.
One can easily become overwhelmed by the chaos, violence, and hatred in the world, but that doesn’t mean we have less responsibility to do something about it. Let’s look at how the majority of media outlets treat divergent pieces of news, for instance, and particularly, the coverage of the shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI. This act of domestic terrorism leveled against a community of peaceful individuals who fall outside the homogeneous, mainstream culture of the US, received far less media attention than the Aurora, CO, shooting. Why? Are they less human? Have they fallen into the category of ‘other’? (I should also note that a large percentage of the networks and individuals who did report on this shooting didn’t even pronounce the word Sikh correctly.)
It almost goes without saying that the ‘news’ we hear, read, and share is more often than not found to be sensationalizing negatives. It’s not because the negatives are what the general public really need to take away from an event or situation, but because the negative is more likely to keep individuals coming back, in a search for something more. Essentially, not all, but a good portion of the media coverage around the Sikh temple shooting focused on white hate groups, the hate music scene, and the hateful ideologies espoused by those involved in this brutal movement, which effectively reduced the victims of this violence to an area less important than the shooter’s beliefs. Of course, the public needs to know about the dangers of said groups, as well as what to do when confronted with hate in their own communities and the resources at their disposal, but that isn’t quite what the media provided. The world also needed to see that the individuals who were killed were living, thinking, feeling human beings who lost their lives. What we all need to know, is that this is a time for hope—hope for a better future where all human beings are treated with the respect, dignity, kindness and compassion they deserve. So how do we change the narrative? Maybe we can start by learning a lesson from the Sikh community: most of the damage from the shooting has been fixed, with the exception of one bullet hole. A small gold plate has been mounted underneath the hole engraved with the following: ”We Are One, 8-5-12”.
The 32nd issue of Life After Hate commenced with a beautiful poem and creative fearless expression from Emma Zeldin in Working On It.
Life After Hate welcomed a brilliant new author, Christopher Sofolo, with his elegantly articulated account of coming out and how homophobia altered the path of his life in After the Storm.
Our beloved friend Callen Harty penned Summer of Peace, about a yearly event and initiative working to end urban violence by promoting peace in the lives of Milwaukee youths.
We were honored to share Barefoot: In the Land of Ayiti – Part 2, the second piece in a series about Sharon Barefoot’s journey of awakening, compassion, and kinship as a volunteer nurse in Haiti.
With an extraordinary amount of wisdom and love for the craft, Life After Hate champion DaRaven authored True Skool: Block Party Displays Hip-Hop in Its Most Pure and Honest Form.
Overwhelmed with sadness for the Sikh community in Oak Creek, WI, and abroad, Life After Hate released a statement in light of the tragedy—Life After Hate’s Response to Sikh Temple Shooting in Oak Creek, WI.
Callen Harty again honored us with his compassion for humanity and by organizing a way for others to share grief and to ease the burden of mourning, an example borrowed from the Sikh community and which can be read about in Doors of Love.
Our brother and Kindness Not Weakness practitioner Sammy Rangel offered a brilliant example of humanity as he reached out to the Sikh community in WI, sharing his experiences and thoughts in Fear No One, Frighten None.
At a time when we desperately needed to be reminded that we all have the power to make a difference in the lives of others, even in the smallest gestures such as making eye contact or offering a kind word to a stranger, survivor of terrorist violence and Life After Hate hero, Tahir Wadood Malik, penned the poem greetings.
We close out Issue 32 of Life After Hate with the idea that no offering of love, kindness, or compassion shown to a fellow human being is ever too small. Our love and gratitude going out to Katharina Hren for the fearless creative expression and reflection in small offerings.
It’s natural to sometimes feel overwhelmed, angry about a situation, and helpless, but it’s also important to remember that situations, narratives, and lives do not change themselves—we must nurture these changes with a little inspiration, with hope. When the burden of grief was the heaviest for me—as I relived the shame of my past and knew that it was someone like I used to be who leveled this violence against the peaceful Sikh community in Oak Creek, WI—when I was feeling hopeless, I asked for encouraging words from some of my friends, and, much as the song goes, I got by with a little help from my friends. I’m confident that these thoughts on kindness and compassion, from some of the bravest individuals I have ever known, will help you, too, when you’re feeling lost, when you need to be reminded that this is a time for hope.
“Fill the air with words that bring life, affirmation and hopefulness. Let your actions to others reflect the strength and beauty you find in yourself. You can’t create peace or sustain peace for yourself when you are in conflict with others. Today, I chose to live in peace.”
~Michael A. Freeman, MSW
University of Central Florida and citizen of this planet
“A key component to my personal transformation of living a life enveloped in a shell of rage, to a path of contributing to the momentum of connection and relational care for others, has been achieved by maintaining an open and conscious reception to kindness, compassion and acts of love from others. Establishing integrity through perseverance, in spite of my tendency to push, shove, and fight; even when this path was arduous and fruitless. No matter what my intrusive thinking told me there was a distant voice of reason and hope. I look back and see that the quaint fading voice that believed others cared for me, and each other, was not a lie. Now, a decade later the miracle of offering a similar acknowledgement of respect and acts of kindness show my gratitude for what others did for me. Together we are building a global community that transcends the purpose of life: each other. Hiy-Hiy”
(MSW candidate, University of Northern British Columbia)
“I believe that kindness starts with how we treat the smallest of human beings and creatures. If we treat children as equals, with respect for their wisdom, they will grow up to treat others as equals while also being open to what others have to teach. If we talk down to children, they will grow up to talk down to others. If we don’t teach them that it’s okay to be different, they will grow up and hide the ways in which they are different while persecuting those whom they perceive to be different. If we model for our children that we treat ourselves with kindness and compassion, they will learn that we can extend kindness and compassion to others without reserve. When we give kindness in order to receive something in return, we will always be left wanting; whereas when we give to truly give, love is able to transform and feed us all, without lack.
ED of Milwaukee Turners/Turner Hall; Financial Administrator at Milwaukee Public Theatre; Yoga Teacher; Life After Hate writer; and most importantly, Gustav’s Mama.
“I strongly believe in freedom, compassion, respect, kindness and forgiveness, more than I believe in anything else in this world. If I don’t believe in all this, there would be no point in being alive: every morning I wake up and go to work, I teach dozens of children not only mathematics or science, but the power of change, the need to spread acts of kindness and to practice tolerance. Every day that I have planted seeds of hope through these kids, I am sure that my existence has not been in vain….I’m not a man of religious faith, but I believe in love and the ability of that feeling to change everything around us. I didn’t grow up in a hostile neighborhood and knew no hatred as a companion. I realise how lucky I am for the life that I have had. Thus, everything I do, each time my actions become something good, I know that life is wonderful and worth waking up for each morning…try to do something good, maybe a smile, maybe a great act, it doesn’t matter as long we can do something good…what we can’t do is believing things are okay as they are. I have 31 years and I may sound like a dreamer or idealist, that’s who I am! That’s the way I think life should be and so I hope to live up to my last moment: dreaming, believing and being faithful to what I believe. Thanks a lot to this wonderful family called Life After Hate!”
~Carlos Eduardo de O. Ramalho
Teacher, dreamer, raised in Brazilian countryside but a citizen of the world!
“It’s something that we can take away from this kind of tragedy, to put ourselves in the position of these people who have lost family and people who are close to them. To think about how we would feel if that had happened to us. And going forward, to use that as motivation to open ourselves up to people who may seem different than what we are used to and accept them as human beings and practice kindness and compassion for everyone on an unconditional and daily basis. That’s really the utmost that anyone can do…to make the world immediately around them a nicer place by simply being loving to the world around them…. We can honor the people whose lives were lost by being kinder and more appreciative of everyone in our great human family going forward.”
Executive Director of Life After Hate, author of My Life After Hate
“Love yourself. Create and appreciate life’s beautiful gifts, for you are one of them. Find a way to break the chains of self-hatred…that is the first step to a more peaceful personal life. Love and appreciate the rainbow of your human family, for they are one with you and one of you. Find a way to link the chains of love…and that is the first step to a more peaceful world.”
Hoodmomma, Artist, Director of The Summer of Peace Initiative 365, www.summerofpeace365.org
“Show [people] that compassion is really what strength is about and not violence.”
Co-founder of Life After Hate, Author of Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead
“Despite the recent atrocities we have faced in this world… there still is hope. Yes, there is still a lot of work to do. But we’ve come a long way from where we started. I believe if we kill ‘em with kindness, we can do great things with love. One person at a time. One day at a time.”
Shin Kicking Life Spark | Sister of Life After Hate | Mom of Aspiring Youth Speaker
“I have felt the pain of violence as it took my dad away and I vowed to respond with compassion ending the cycle of violence and revenge. My pain is transformed, my humanity is increased as I seek to see the humanity in all and understand those who use violence. Your story can be my story and there is no us and them. It is a challenging path and we need each other to grow. Now I know love is stronger, love can win, love will heal the darkest pain.”
Inspirational speaker, Founder of Building Bridges for Peace
“As a survivor of terrorism who lost his wife to a suicide bomber exploding himself in her office, and the director of the Pakistan Terrorism Survivors Network (a not for profit NGO), my endeavor is to create a caring and benevolent society, one in which we craft a narrative of love, compassion, and understanding. A society in which the violent extremist can see the pain their act of extremism inflicts on their victims before he goes out, and changes his stance. Talking to other survivors helps me understand and be emphatic, a bit of me is left behind each time I talk to a survivor. One day soon we will overcome this difficult task, and that day we will be able to say, thank Allah, for the guidance and the friends who kept true to our path.”
~Tahir Wadood Malik
Director of Pakistan Terrorism Survivors Network
PakTSN website – paktsn.webs.com
Tahir’s blog – gsntahir.wordpress.com
“To show kindness in the face of cruelty. To be compassionate towards those who seem to have no reverence for diversity. These things we must set our minds upon if we are to be purveyors of peace. This is easier said than done, but we can look to the archetypes—past and present, they inspire us and keep us moving forward. Hate is a cavern so dark; our acts of love (and forgiveness) are like tiny sparks. When we join together we can burn bright enough to illuminate the path that leads us out and into a future where we see ourselves in the faces of the ‘other’. We are but one grand human family-—once divided, now coalesced. This future is possible. We are creating it. We must never give up.”
Father. Student. Writer/Blogger. Seeker.
Christopher’s blog: http://www.sofolo.posterous.com/
“Kindness is an innate willingness of the soul to speak in the world of the material. Through it compassion manifests and heart and soul join in a dance of love and creation. For kindness gives one strength in moments of weakness”
Author and Rebel for Life After Hate
”I had to wake up this morning and know I’m going to show compassion to someone. Not, ‘Am I going to get up and fight with the right wing guy or the left wing guy, or argue with somebody?’ I’m going to show compassion to the next person I come in contact with, and that’s always helping my life change for the better.”
Activist, Actor, Author of Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Story of Frank Meeink
“Make sure that the choices that you’re making are based on your own truth and the values that you have on somebody else’s life. Our lives are the result of all the choices we make…that’s what we’re here for, we got lost and found our way out, and, we’re here to help other people to realize that…there is a path out.”
Motivational Speaker, Author of The Neo Compassionist
Growing up in South Florida, Angela King struggled with her identity. She became confused about the messages she received from her church and family on issues like sexual identity and racial stereotypes. Disenfranchised, Angela began acting out and felt welcomed for the first time by a group of racist Skinheads: "They were angry and hated everyone. They made me feel like part of a family." Entrenched in the racist underground, crime became an increasingly important part of Angela's life. Though the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing made Angela reconsider her beliefs, she knew that abandoning her Skinhead affiliates would result in retaliation. Angela was arrested in 1998 and sentenced to six years in prison for her part in an armed robbery of a Jewish-owned store. Angela was released from prison three years early, in 2001, for good behavior and cooperation with the authorities. She has since graduated from the University of Central Florida with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies. Angela routinely works as a keynote speaker, consultant, correspondent, and character educator in schools, communities, religious centers and elsewhere. She has been interviewed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, National Public Radio, and the National Resource Center for Racial Healing, among others, and has received several recognitions and awards for her dedication and support of Prejudice Reduction, Building Communities of Justice, as well as Holocaust education. Some of Angela's recent activities and work include: delegate and panelist at the Google Summit Against Violent Extremism, held in Dublin, Ireland, in June 2011; panelist at a 9/11 related commemoration event sponsored by the Department of Homeland Securities' Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism program, held in Washington D.C. in September 2011; Editor In Chief and Character Educator at LifeAfterHate.org; and is currently writing a memoir vis-á-vis her time inside and out of the racist underground.