An African American drove Michael Kent into a neo Nazi hate group, and another one pulled him out.
“I hurt a lot of people,” he says tearfully in an “I Am Second Conversations” video. “I hurt a lot of kids when I was a kid. Their parents were coming after me.”
Michael’s sojourn into racism began when he was 12 years old and struck up a budding friendship with a black boy in Erie, PA.
“I got me a black friend. No animosity or nothing. We were as thick as thieves. We got along great,” Michael recalls. One day he was invited to his house.
“I don’t want that blue-eyed devil in my house,” his mother declared.
His friend was never allowed to talk to him after that. “My first encounter with racism was that day,” he says.
By the time he was 15, he started cooking up methamphetamines and getting involved with neo Nazis, even working closely with the higher-ups. He began passing out hate pamphlets and participating in marches on the state capitol.
Later, when he had a child himself, he understood why other parents had tried to protect their kids.
“These people I freaking hurt and I destroyed their lives, they were just trying to protect their kid,” he says. “I cried like a little baby the day my son was born because I know that if anybody hurt my kid, I’d kill them. That’s when I knew I had to walk away.”
What really helped him get out of the neo Nazis was a female African American probation officer, who visited his house in Pinal County, Arizona, unaccompanied. Because of his violent involvement with the skinheads, all of his previous probation officers — white officers — took pains to show up with a wingman.
“Not even people of my own race showed up at my house alone,” Michael says. “I gained a lot of respect for her that day.”
But Tiffany, a committed Christian, went beyond the call of duty and reached out to Michael with some heart-to-heart life coaching. She urged him to tear down the Hitler paraphernalia decorating his walls. He complied with everything, worked his job and paid his fines. He got swastika tattoos covered up.
Inside, his heart was melted by the kindness of Tiffany.
“Why did you believe in me?” he asked her. (“I Am Second Conversations” adds a twist to the usual testimonial videos of a person seated in a white chair. In these, two people talk face to face in two white chairs.)
“Why did you want to help me to change? You put forth more of an effort than anybody I’ve had in my life. Why? Not even people of my own race wanted to help me.”
“I wanted you to be a better person,” Tiffany responded. “I love you. God has some strong power…to break down those walls and bring love into your heart. In the last five years, my sense of purpose has grown tremendously. I have this strong belief that the Lord is using me.”
Michael never would have believed in God before Tiffany came into his life. He got invited to church and found peace.
“I wouldn’t be a good father, I wouldn’t be a good husband, I wouldn’t be the man I am today, if it wasn’t for your ‘stubbornness,’” he tells her. “You were willing to push me. I don’t get it. You opened my eyes to a lot of things. You let me see a lot of beauty in this world beyond race. You showed me more love than I got from my own race, my own culture. How can somebody love me after all the people I’ve hurt?”
Tiffany addressed him directly: “The Lord has seen you as a young boy and he’s seen you grown into a man and He wants you to spread His love. He forgives you. You have to forgive yourself. I forgive you.”
Michael told ABC News he never would have worked for a non-white, but after Tiffany helped him to see some changes, he became the only white at a job with 13 non-whites. He’s divorced. Michael’s probation ended in 2010, but his friendship with Tiffany continues.
Tiffany “gave me the strength and the courage to do what I’m doing,” Michael told ABC news. “I know that if she believes in people, I know I can.”
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Bryan Gutierrez studied at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.