By Andrea Bilton, Staff Writer
Former neo-Nazi skinhead-turned-public speaker Frank Meeink gave a chilling lecture on Tuesday, Oct. 3, against some of the evils he came to know over the course of his life. The event, held at the Sondra and David S. Mack Student Center Theater, was organized by Hofstra Hillel, the Center for Jewish Life on Campus.
Meeink’s story recounted his severely troubled youth, including his abusive stepfather and violent school experience, his early run-ins with white supremacists in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and the degeneracy that led to his eventual incarceration.
Through these stories, Meeink introduced the audience to the dichotomy of his past and his present. Over the course of two hours, Meeink emphasized his message of learning the processes of understanding and empathy.
“Empathy, that’s everything. Empathy is our weapon,” Meeink said. “That is exactly what we use when we’re fighting hatred. It’s the greatest weapon because it cuts the deepest without cutting you at all.”
At a point in time where hate and division is rising to the surface, Meeink’s words came as a beacon of hope for some.
“I thought it was eye-opening,” said Monique Laynburd, a senior public relations major. “Especially with what is going on in the world, you get a whole new insight on what goes on in these people’s minds. You kind of also hope for this happy ending, where people can change.”
Meeink’s stories were laced with cautionary tales and warnings, but also avenues of inspiration.
One student thought Meeink’s brand of rhetoric would be of the utmost importance to some people from her hometown.
“I’m from a town where almost everyone is white … I know there are some people there that are vehemently against anyone else,” said Alyssa Pennell, a senior finance major. “I feel like if more people listened to this kind of thing, it would be a better place for everyone.”
Meeink’s narrative retraced his path and told stories of learning to empathize with African-Americans and people of the Jewish faith after his release from prison.
The turning point for Meeink and his perception on life, he revealed nearly breaking down, was the Oklahoma City bombing and the now-famous photo of a firefighter cradling a child killed in the resulting explosion.
After the lecture, Meeink was met by a crowd of people who were keen on speaking with him.
“Talking with anyone after the show, I always want to know: What did they get out of it? Which part made them think of something? What made them get emotional?” Meeink said. “But sometimes, when another human being comes up and shares something with me personally and it’s something private that they may not share with anyone else, I know this all works.”
Meeink travels across the country spreading his message of understanding and his book, “Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead,” details even more of his past. He also gives back as a youth hockey coach and is the founder of Harmony Through Hockey, a program that not only provides children from all walks of life with hockey equipment, but also acts a communal safe haven that encourages them to learn humility and steers them on the right path.
“We’re all just human beings on this planet,” Meeink said. “And when people come up and say ‘I’ve been through that,’ or ‘I’ve gone through this,’ all I can say is, ‘thank you for listening to me. Thank you for taking the time out.’”