By Lily Goodman
Americans have heard a lot recently about the various hate groups around the United States, and whether they label themselves as neo-Nazis, white supremacists, or skinheads, one thing is certain: they are hate groups.
Innocent people have been killed, and many people live in fear simply because their skin color or their religion might make them a target for violence by these groups. Frank Meeink, a former white supremacist skinhead gang member from Philadelphia asked himself one question: when, and how, will this end?
Meeink, a well-known neo-Nazi leader and recruiter in the east in the 1990s, now speaks out against the things he used to preach. At 7 p.m. Friday, the reformed white supremacist will read from his autobiography, aptly titled, Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story, at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St.
For Meeink, one thing that altered his mind was interacting with the world around him through a different lens.
“What changed for me was when I actually sat down and talked with the people that I thought I hated,” he said. “Because once I realized we actually had some things in common, that changed my entire mindset.”
Meeink did not have an easy upbringing in South Philadelphia, often passed from guardian to guardian.
“I had a stepfather who was abusive, and he sent me to go live with my dad, who was a drug addict and [an] alcoholic,” he said. “I went to an all-black school and got beat up all the time.”
That all changed when Meeink was 13, and his cousin “took [him] under his wing.”
“He was a part of this neo-Nazi group out in Amish country,” Meeink said. “He started talking to me about things that my parents never talked to me about, and when I told him I was getting beat up by some black kids at school, he used that to propagate a lot of hate within me, and the next thing I knew, I was really into the movement.”
At 17, Meeink was arrested for aggravated kidnapping of a rival skinhead leader and went to prison in Illinois for three years. While serving his sentence, Meeink became an avid sports player and often played basketball with black inmates.
“That’s when I started seeing people as just human beings for the first time in my life,” he said.
Upon his release, he began working for a Jewish man who owned an antique store.
“I still tried to go back to my former life, my former friends, but I just couldn’t,” Meeink said.
Today, he leads a very different life than before. He lives in Des Moines, with his wife and four children, who are, his “entire world” now.
He’s also a sports junkie, and runs a youth program, Harmony through Hockey, which he started around 15 years ago to better spread his message on finding compassion for those around you, no matter who they might be.
“I have a lot of mentors in my life now of many different backgrounds and races,” Meeink said. “They give me great advice on being a better person and dad. And I’ll just say this: What a great chance I have at life now, because back in the day, I wouldn’t have had this chance.”