My Life After Hate

 

Arno Michaelis has lived a double life, each vastly different from the other. As a former skinhead, neo-Nazi race warrior, and white power musician he was fueled by a cycle of pain and violence. Now he enlightens audiences of his transformation teaching love, acceptance, and inclusion.

Michaelis, a Milwaukee native, grew up in the toxic environment of an alcoholic household, and experienced emotional stress from a young age. He lived with a “me vs. the world,” mentality and his inner power struggle provoked him to lash out, bully, and fight. “The common thread there is suffering,” Arno states. As a teen, he found punk music as an outlet for his aggression but this outlet continued to fuel the violence.

Michaelis, former skinhead speaks out:

arno-michaelis-former-skinhead-wolfman-productions“There are certainly people who find healthy outlets through the punk scene, through the punk way of life,” Arno exclaimed. “But for me, punk was about smashing things and pissing people off. The punk rocker I was, was about getting as messed up as I possibly could on alcohol and drugs then going out, causing problems, repulsing people, and getting in fights.”

Sporting a Mohawk hairstyle and searching to find himself, Arno experienced joy from others’ disgust and thrived on it. The punk scene was just the beginning and led him down the path to white power skinhead music. “From going to punk to the white supremacist ideology was just an escalation of the idea of repulsing people,” Arno stated. “Seeing a Mohawk repulse people, try a swastika.”

Arno went on to front the race metal band, Centurion, where he would get on stage and scream hate into the microphone. Violence was the norm — encouraged, and accepted at these shows – and some would even leave in an ambulance. “We wanted to inspire a berserk rage among our own people. We wanted our guys to get so immersed in violence it was second nature to them. We were dangerous even to ourselves.”

Once at the forefront of the movement, he led, recruited, and organized people around these ideologies. “It was very much like a wolf pack situation. There was myself and some other alphas and we established ourselves through violence to be the leaders of the organization.” They would hold booze fueled meetings at an old, dilapidated house, in a rough neighborhood and developed a plan to save the white race. “In addition to getting drunk and beating people up, we later became part of a group called, ‘Church of the Creators.’ They put out a monthly newspaper called Racial Loyalty and our ongoing activism was to put them in mailboxes and leave them on porches in neighborhoods we considered white.”

Though their organization had a plan, there was a relentless struggle for power between younger and older members which lead to a constant mutiny from within. “Our organizational culture was violence, so it was no surprise that our organization was inherently dysfunctional.” Over time, the constant stress and exhaustion from the movement caught up to Arno. The life he was leading no longer made sense to him.arno-michaelis-former-skinhead-speaker-wolfman-productions

“The organization itself self-destructed. It got to seem as stupid as it was and one by one we all started growing out of it and went our separate ways.” Arno credits receiving kindness from the ones he claimed to hate and the undying support of his family as crucial factors leading to his salvation. “No matter how bad I got and no matter what horrible things I did, they didn’t give up on me. If that would have been missing, it’s entirely possible I wouldn’t have made it out.”

Arno’s second life began in 2010, when he made it his personal mission to “make the point that we’re all human beings and have far more in common than otherwise. We really need to celebrate that and to create a foundation to address all these issues.” Over the past seven years, he has spoken to over 30,000 people, and via social and mainstream media his message has reached millions. His goal is to have his positive impact not only counter the negativity he spread but to greatly surpass it. “I never want to lose sight of the harm that I’ve done. I never want to let the sting, the shame, the humiliation, of that completely fade away because it does provide an urgency for me to keep escalating the positive impact I’m making now.”

 

For more information on booking Arno Michaelis, contact Scott Wolfman

Notes from the Conservation Front Line

 

It was a gloomy Friday morning and biologist, conservationist, and overall adventurer, Niall McCann, had just gotten back home to the United Kingdom. He was fresh off a string of talks in New Jersey, taking audiences on his journey, Notes from the Conservation Front Line. In his talk, he sheds a light on his worldly adventures but advocates for the importance of conservation and expresses that everyone can play a role, no matter how big or small.

“People are the problem and the solution,” which is a sentiment that Niall takes close to heart. Four years ago, Niall lobbied the Hniall-alligatoronduran government to help protect a threatened National Park, which allowed for more hands-on patrolling to hinder poaching and extinction. Niall is proud of his efforts and seeing them pay off. Since the patrolling began, not one endangered Tapir has been killed.

More recently, Niall has established a charity called, National Parks Rescue (NPR), focused on stopping the current genocide of all animals but specifically lions, rhinos, and elephants. “The National Park Rescue came about through the realization of two things. Firstly, that the conservation crisis is ongoing, worldwide. Endangered animals are still being killed at an unsustainable rate. And secondly, that the current conservation efforts are not working.” Over the past 100 years, these three mammals have lost at least 93% of their species and at the current slaughter rate; they will all be gone in ten years. NPR takes direct action and is not a donor body that just disperses funds to existing non-governmental organizations. In their last nine month operation in Malawi, they proved that direct action works, resulting in the arrest of 75 poachers, the destruction of 10,000 lethal traps and transformation of the ranger force.

Unlike Niall, most can’t be on the ground in Honduras changing conservation techniques or starting anti-poaching operations in Africa but there is always another way to support the cause. He speaks of the ever growing presence of social media and how these “arm-chair activists” can directly make a change. “What we are noticing now is that there is an impressive movement of environmental engaged young people, who I suppose are fighting against the negativity of the older generation. Signing petitions or writing to their local politicians, that really does make a difference.”

Though Niall is hopeful in our younger generation, he recognizes that many people still do not understand what is happening globally. The current president-elect of the United States, Donald Trump, is a proponent of the global warming hoax theory. He is also likely to pull out of the Paris Agreement, an agreement signed by 195 countries to help curb greenhouse emissions. Niall is skeptical of the immediate future. “He is a dangerous man. Not only him, but the cabinet he is putting in place. They don’t have the faintest understanding of science or really care. These are they types of people who only care about the bottom-line and the bottom-line only.”

To no surprise, Niall is resilient and uses the negativity to fuel the fire and to keep pushing ahead stronger than ever. “What this does, it tells the world scientists that our job is not yet done. There must be no room for misinterpretation of the reality of climate change, of the reality species extinction, of the reality of ecosystems services making an enormous contribution to global welfare. We have to fight and we must resist.” —-MH, Nov. 2016

The Future is Yours

 

Considering the reputation that Des Moines Area Community College’s (DMACC) ciWeek has established over the last seven years, it is an honor to be asked to take part as a guest speaker.  Dr. Reed Timmer, who chases tornados and was the star of the Discovery Channel’s Hit Series “Storm Chasers,” was included in this year’s lineup. “After reading about their previous speakers including all of the astronauts who have been to space and walked on the moon, I knew this one was going to be special,” recalls Timmer in an interview after the week had concluded.

Often times students arrive at college with one of two mindsets: they either know exactly what they want to do and have the next ten years planned out or they have no clue what they want to do tomorrow let alone where they want to be in five or ten years. During his talk, Dr. Timmer motivated students into following their passion. He showed videos of storms he has chased, and shared that he had always dreamed of being a storm chaser and meteorologist.” He was fortunate enough to be able to make that dream a reality and wanted to show students that their dreams could become their life one day. He was able to use his talk, entitled “Never Stop Chasing” and translate it to real life lessons. This title “doesn’t only apply to tornadoes and hurricanes; it represents an important message to never stop pursuing your dreams in life.”  

Storm Chasers  credit Discovery Channel

Storm Chasers credit Discovery Channel

In reflection, Dr. Timmer recalled that “it would be impossible for an attendee of this event to not be fired up and want to pursue their dreams and tackle all of life’s challenges” simply due to the nature of the event. CiWeek, which originated in 2010, occurs each year as a way to inspire all to never stop pushing toward achieving their dreams. Dr. Timmer believes that events like this “are vital to bridging the gap between being a student and succeeding in the real world after college.”

Throughout a student’s time in college, they are bombarded with information and do not always know how to utilize it after they graduate. Philip Graham, a member of the class of 2018, believes that “the week was meant to bring awareness to how important creativity is in the workforce and how with just an idea, you can be an innovator.” There is a difference between learning in a comfortable classroom setting and applying those skills at your first job. In today’s world it is more important than ever for students to come out of college with transferable skills and be ready to work; therefore, when “events like ciWeek allow speakers to share first-hand how they have pursued their dreams and used the knowledge gained over their lives to succeed,” they are able to inspire students in ways they never imagined.

The DMACC Chronicle, the college’s student-run newspaper, sent students to multiple events throughout the week to cover the stories being shared. Graham, a Digital Production and Journalism Major, chose to take on the story and said he had a lot of fun doing it. After doing his own research on the speakers he developed a deeper understanding of what they had accomplished and why Dr. Paustian had chosen to bring them to campus. This may have been the first time Graham attended ciWeek; however, “it didn’t seem like [he] was on a beat or a story. [He] felt like [he] was there for [his] own self-interest and [he] enjoyed it.”

Is STEAM the New STEM?

 

At the root of Des Moines Area Community College’s (DMACC) ciWeek, is science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education (STEM). Having a week centered around individuals who had made an impact in their designated field is meant to empower students and make a difference in their lives. Presenters like Kari Byron, who started as an art major and ended up hosting and co-hosting shows such as the Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters,” were a part of this year’s events.

Weeks/events such as this are important starting points for students to recognize what other people in their field have done, and where they can take their next step. Even though she was an art major in college, Byron hosted the 2016 White House Science Fair as a proponent for STEM education. In an interview with The Campus Chronicle at DMACC, Byron stated that Art and science basically have the same momentum: you start with a question, and you investigate the possibilities.A strong proponent of STEM and the understanding of the link between art and science, Byron believesthat if you teach art in conjunction with science and mathematics, people will be able to connect the dots in different ways.”

Kari Byron and Dr. Paustian at ciWeek

Kari Byron and Dr. Paustian at ciWeek

For Philip Graham, a member of the DMACC class of 2018, the biggest thing he walked away from ciWeek with was “understanding the fact that creativity is crucial in order to be successful.” Creativity and curiosity are a large part of what make artists successful, these connect to the areas covered by STEM. Once Bryon “started to approach science like art” that she was able to get her “hands dirty and discover a new passion.” After discovering how the five subjects relate, Byron became an advocate for inclusion of art in STEM and it becomes STEAM education.

According to the college website, ciWeek is designed to “provide students and central Iowans an opportunity to engage with people (some famous, all inspired) who have dreamed, created and accomplished.” The week brings together innovators from the fields of science, technology, and the arts to inspire students and faculty, as well as the community. All three fields have much to offer students and when events such as ciWeek at DMACC take place, they are able to see a variety of different events in a way that help to “broaden the spectrum as to what is possible to achieve,” according to presenter Howard Berger. This week of events allowed students like Graham to “indulge [himself] in the presence of innovated artists and step into their perspective and understanding their logic.” In a world where “there will always be the rational, scientific answers,” Graham notes that “there has to be creativity in order to make it innovated.”

Celebrate! Innovation Week (ciWeek)

 

Des Moines Area Community College’s (DMACC) West Campus is not your typical college campus. Since it’s opening, DMACC has focused on making sure that all who walk on campus leave feeling inspired and knowledgeable about those who have made their mark on the world. According to Dr. Anthony Paustian, Provost, the campus is set up like a media museum where each room is dedicated to innovators of the past and showcases a 5 minute documentary outside the door. Wanting to build off of this, Dr. Paustian had a dream which turned into a reality when the first Innovation Week (iWeek) took place in 2010. The first iWeek showcased Astronaut Alan Bean as the keynote speaker with breakout sessions led by faculty throughout the week. As the years progressed so did the events and in 2012 the week-long series of events was renamed Celebrate! Innovation Week (ciWeek). Each year DMACC hosts the annual ciWeek in which members of the university and the community are exposed to events that showcase people who have made their mark on the world.ciWeek 2016

Dr. Paustian notes that although this series is free to all attendees, it is modeled much like a TED convention that could cost upwards of $10,000 to attend. Paustian believes that “those who need to hear these stories, to see them first hand and get inspired by them, are the ones who don’t have the resources to go [to major conferences];” therefore, he strives to attract the best for his students and the surrounding community. This year the ciWeek consisted of 14 keynote sessions and featured presentations from a variety of different backgrounds. In an interview after the events, Presenter Howard Berger(of KNB EFX) noted that he “felt the eclectic array of speakers made every presentation unique.” Due to the various connections that are able to be made within the concept of “STEM”, DMACC wanted this year’s theme to center around the concept of having the freedom to dream and the opportunities to achieve those dreams. Dr. Paustian notes that in developing a theme they try to either think of speakers they want their students to hear or a concept they want them to learn and build the event from there.

Although he joked that this series has gotten so big he almost has no choice but to do it every year, Dr. Paustian truly enjoys putting on these events for the entire community. Having the support and backing of both local as well as nationally recognized companies who are able to fully fund all of the programs, he believes that DMACC is truly making a difference. He knows that he cannot inspire everyone and that all attendees will walk away with a different outlook; however, feedback from students and members of the community are crucial to improving ciWeek. Written responses from students, emails from parents such as the one saying “my daughter had no idea what she was going to do until she listened to Cassie Lee and now she’s in the Aerospace Engineering Program at Iowa State University,” as well as members of the community who are always in attendance, are the reasons why these events continue to be successful. In looking at the big picture and all the time and energy that goes into making it happen, Dr. Paustian notes that “If [these events] can inspire one person to change our world for the better, it is worth it.” Based on student reactions, including Class of 2018 member Philip Graham, Dr. Paustian’s creation in itself is changing the world one ciWeek at a time.

Violence Is Not The Answer

It did not take long for Nyle Fort to feel the energy on Bucknell University’s campus during Martin Luther King Jr. Week. The events that encompassed the “Violence of Hate” series, presented by the President’s Diversity Council, included lectures from Fort and eight others, all connecting their stories to Dr. King’s message. Nyle notes that in walking onto campus he was pleased to see that university had created a space, for students and faculty alike, to begin to talk about topics was a country too often sweep under the rug.

Fort spoke to his audience about Dr. King’s message in a way that related it to the world today. In the world we live in we have made great strides in the war against violence, but we are far from the end of the battle. Originally set to have conversations with students in the form of a monolog, Fort opened his timeslot to Reverend James Lawson and the two shared in a conversation on the importance of nonviolent resistance. Reverend Lawson worked with Dr. King and his talk allowed students to hear firsthand what it was like to grow up during that time period. Throughout the conversation, Nyle spoke about the Black Lives Matter Movement currently in action, while Lawson commented on the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the creative ways in which problems could be solved. Meshing together the two different generations allowed for the direct connection between Dr. King’s message and how it applies to the world today. Fort photo

Both Fort and Lawson share a similar passion and focused on educating the audience on how far the power of love and solidarity can go. Jahi Omari, Bucknell Class of 2017, was quoted in the school newspaper saying, “I believe that if people are provided with examples of nonviolence actually working, then [they] will be more convinced that people can live peacefully.” In each of their stories, they both discuss the importance of spreading King’s message and living a legacy he would be proud of.

Regardless of their beliefs on the subject matter, attendees were invested in the event and had meaningful conversations with both speakers following the event. According to Fort, “We live in a very exciting and very devastating time. We can look at a host of issues – mass incarceration, police brutality, economic inequality, climate change and so on – to see that we still have a lot of work to do. With the way society is organized today, and the events that are occurring in regards to hatred and violence, the role of Universities is to challenge us to think more deeply and act more courageously in the fight for a world free from violence and oppression.” 

Nyle believes that all universities have an obligation to challenge students to address the most important moral issues of our day. In reflecting after the event, he talked about the importance to provide a space, like Bucknell did, to have difficult conversations. Honest and critical dialogue is a first step towards inventing a future where all lives matter.

Difficult Topics Make the Best Conversations

When Haider Hamza speaks to college students across the country he keeps track of questions asked during his lecture. He does this to get a sense of not only how many questions were asked by that audience, but to also build off them and potentially develop his next talk in a way that will touch upon those topics of discussion. He has even built in pauses during his lecture for audience members to ask him questions. At any given event Hamza says that there are around 10 questions asked throughout those stopping points. Bucknell University was not just another school Haiderand this was not a typical talk for him. This event was focused on relating his message back to that of Martin Luther King Jr. and he says that he received around 36 questions that night. “I stopped every four minutes or so to ask the audience if they had any questions and to get a read on how they were responding to what I had to say,” Hamza said afterward.

In keeping with the theme of the week, Haider spoke to his audience about universal human rights. He talked about how regardless of who you are or where you are from, everyone has basic human rights. He was able to zoom out from his lens, zoom out from the message of Dr. King, and connect the two on a broad scale to create what turned out to be “the most original, riveting, and sincere [talk],” according to Carmen Gillespie, Director of the Griot Institute for Africana Studies at Bucknell. Reflecting after the event he commented that in broadening the two topics to a location where they connect, he was able to get more buy-in from the audience, and in return more people were receptive to what he had to say. Katie Carroll, Bucknell Class of 2019, was quoted in the school newspaper saying that although the message of Dr. King is taught in the classroom, “we have to realize that knowing the message of MLK is different from applying it,” and noted that Hamza encouraged the audience to recognize that difference as he “opened [her] eyes to the true meaning and application of Dr. Martin Luther King’s message [in today’s world].

The conversations on this topic and with Haider did not stop after his talk was over. Not only did students stay late speaking with him that night, but more than a week after the event he was still receiving dozens of emails from students. The event provided a safe space to have the difficult conversations about conflict, discrimination, and slavery among other topics that are not normally talked about in daily life. Students, faculty, as well as community members, took advantage of this platform to have these conversations. Hamza notes that although we do not feel comfortable having these conversations, we are doing more harm than good in not talking. Audience members were able to connect what he was talking about to their own personal experiences, and developed a connection with Hamza in numerous ways as he created “a once-in-a-lifetime understanding and reimaging of experience,” according to Gillespie. His talk was the first in the Violence of Hate series put together by the Bucknell President’s Diversity Council, and provided students with a safe space in which they were able to connect with one another on a level that many of them had never tried to get to prior to listening to his story.

Violence of Hate

“Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

Bucknell University, a private liberal arts college located in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, took Martin Luther King Jr. Week to a whole new level in 2016. The university welcomed the likes of Haider Hamza, Mark Barden, Ian Hockley, Jeremy Richman, David Wheeler, Jack Levin, Nyle Fort, Jim Lawson, and Jennifer Pozner to bring King’s message to the students. These nine individuals have their own unique stories and experiences; however, their lives, and the decisions they have made, all connect back to King’s message of violence being immoral. The week, entitled “Violence of Hate,” embodied the overall message of Dr. King while highlighting nine individual stories.

These events came to fruition after the university noticed a need for conversation as a way to respond to different violent attacks happening on campuses across the country. For the first time, the university did not hold classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In honor of Dr. King and the message he preached, the President’s Diversity Council gave the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day a deeper meaning than just another day off for students. Director of the Griot Institute of Africana Studies at Bucknell, Carmen Gillespie, said that with the recent events at other universities, Bucknell wanted to use this opportunity to make Dr. King’s legacy known to students, and bring external recognition throughout the whole week.

BucknellThe week accessed the myths and strategies needed to change the world in relation to the legacy that Dr. King left and the struggles of the world today. With powerful speakers who worked hand in hand with each other, it was evident that no matter what angle you approach from, Dr. King had a message that applies to everyone. In today’s world “the word ‘love’ is often dismissed as affection, but not particularly serious since it cannot be measured. These speakers talked about empathy and compassion, in that context, ‘to love’ is one of the most powerful things we can do,” recounted Gillespie after the week had concluded.

In hosting these events, Bucknell instigated a conversation about the revolution of Dr. King’s message and how it continues to be relevant. Throughout each event students were challenged to look through a different lens. The first talk, given by Iraqi native Haider Hamza, allowed students such as Yash Mittal, Bucknell Class of 2019, to see a different perspective on the war in Iraq. Haider grew up wondering why a country thought it was okay to bring turmoil to his homeland, and ventured to the United States looking for those answers. A lot of times we are told one side of a story, and having a platform to hear from someone who experienced it from the other side was “eye-opening” according to Mittal.

Every event had a full audience, and due to the extreme success of this years’ series, Bucknell is looking forward to doing it again next year. “One of the areas where Bucknell struggles is with a part of its identity to be more inclusive. This [week of events] was a way to start that conversation of diversity,” according to Gillespie.