By Jocelyn Asher
Frank Meeink was recognized as a relentless skinhead leader of the neo-Nazi movement in the late 1990s. Growing up with drug-addicted parents and an abusive stepfather, Meeink turned to hate in order to survive the South Philadelphia streets.
Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead is the story of how Meeink went from being a violent Neo-Nazi leader and recruiter to a civil rights activist and upstander against hate and intolerance. His story proves that tolerance can be learned at any time, even in the most unlikely circumstances.
As a Jewish-American woman, curiosity about the Neo-Nazi movement sparked my interest in Meeink’s story. I could not wrap my head around the fact that such violent hate for another group of people still exists, even after the atrocities of the Holocaust and other genocides. Meeink’s individual story, along with stories I have been exposed to while interning at Not In Our Town, have provided me with a better understanding of where this hate comes from.
I have been the target of religious microaggressions and anti-Semitism in my own life; however, I was lucky enough to grow up in the generally accepting community of Walnut Creek, CA. Although I have been exposed to ignorance when it comes to my religion, questions and comments aimed at me have mostly been out of curiosity, not hatred. Not everyone has had the same experience. Religious intolerance is relevant and needs to be addressed, and Meeink took the steps to do so.
In times of desperate need, he gained friendship and support from people he never thought he would, including his Jewish boss and his two African-American prisonmates. He realized that the passionate hate he had previously felt stemmed from deep-rooted ignorance, and it existed without a purpose. “As soon as I started to question my racism, all this evidence appeared to prove I was on the right track,” said Meeink.
After his realization, he began working with the Anti-Defamation League, who partnered with Not In Our Town for our Light In The Darkness campaign, to share his story and to promote acceptance to audiences around the country. Last Year, Marshalltown, IA's local Not In Our Town group co-sponsored Meeink's visit with the Friends of the Library, Marshalltown YMCA-YWCA and the Iowa Humanities board in a program called, “From Hatred to Harmony.” Meeink, who now lives in Des Moines, even started a children’s hockey league, Harmony Through Hockey, which brings children of all backgrounds together to enjoy the sport.
Not only did I find his story eye-opening, but believe it could inspire people to educate themselves and change their perspectives. His experiences deliver an important message: Differences, whether they be cultural, racial, sexual, or religious, should be celebrated, not resented.
Interning at Not In Our Town has opened my eyes to the unlimited forms of hate and bigotry that plague this country and the rest of the world; however, I have also seen how much of a positive impact individuals and communities can have on these issues. My hope is that stories like Frank Meeink’s will encourage people to continue to stand up for those targeted, to take steps towards religious tolerance, and to accept all people despite their differences.
Jocelyn Asher is the communication and web intern at Not In Our Town, and recently graduated from the University of Oregon with a major in Communication Studies.