Depending on when I wrote this article, a specific brutal killing would be in your mind. If I’d done it in 2017, it would probably recall the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. But now as I write, the country is responding to the horrific murder of 11 Jews in a deeply peaceful and spiritual Pittsburgh synagogue. Like most of you, I have found myself looking at how this atrocity has been responded to on social media. In truth, I posted something in which I quoted the Dalai Lama, making a case for the need for us not to meet hate with rage if we want peace, but with love.
But you might be getting tired of my invoking my spiritual heroes to justify my arguments. So, I’m going to tell you a true story out of the 21st century, involving no saints or celebrated world leaders. I’m hoping it can bring you to the awareness that love is not a worn-out hippie panacea or a naïve, airy-fairy new age cop out.
IT IS REAL. AND IT WORKS.
Derek Black is a young man whose father, Don Black, is a former head of the Ku Klux Klan. Derek is also the Godson of the well-known white nationalist and far right politician David Duke. Don Black created Stormfront, one of the largest hate websites in the world. At the top of their list of priorities has been the extermination of the Jews, whom they view as particularly dangerous – insidious, intelligent and clever, their intent being to lead the United States toward multiculturalism, which they believe would eradicate the white race.
Don Black’s son, Derek, who grew up in West Palm Beach, spent a great deal of time on Stormfront. His elders were grooming him to lead their white nationalist organization. Surrounded by neo-Nazis and former clan leaders, Derek launched a white nationalist website for kids. When giving a talk, he was introduced as “the leading light of our movement.” Since he was homeschooled, white nationalism became the focus of his education.
Following an interest in medieval European history, he attended New College of Florida, a liberal school that happened to have a strong history department. He got to know some Jewish students who, knowing who he was but saying nothing to him about it, began inviting him to Friday night Shabbat (Sabbath) dinners. They welcomed him openly and lovingly into their world, not questioning him or asking him to explain or justify his beliefs. Over time, Derek ’s closeness with his new friends caused him to reconsider his racist views. He abandoned those beliefs completely, enduring a difficult conflict with his unredeemed father.
If you’re interested in more of the story, read Rising Out of Hatred by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eli Saslow. And in these times of unrelenting division and fear-driven aggression, keep Derek Black in a little corner of your mind to remind you that love still trumps fear.