It’s never too late to change. Just ask Arno Michaelis . . .
For a long, long time, he belonged to the White Supremacist movement, subscribing to the hateful doctrines, wearing his rage like a uniform. He had swastikas tattooed on arms that made clear his intolerance and spelled out his loathing of those he considered inferior. He led a White Supremacist rock band that implored the impressionable to join the so-called cause. Unable to accept the black players on the roster, he stopped following his favorite football team. He had to watch Seinfeld in secret, lest his equally-prejudiced peers find out that he found a Jew entertaining. In the end, Arno found the hate too exhausting. He isn’t that man these days.
Instead, as far fetched as it might sound, Arno is leading a movement that has peace and kindness at its core and, what’s more, he has found an unexpected ally. Pardeep Kaleka’s father, Satwant, was murdered 12 months ago this week, along with five others at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The gunman was a White Supremacist called Wade Michael Page. That Pardeep and Arno have, as a direct result, formed the most profound friendship is quite remarkable. Life is nothing if not unpredictable.
‘We (Michaelis and Page) were both white-power skinheads, we were both in white-power bands; in just about every sense, I used to be him,’ explains Arno, who, in the days following the senseless shooting, agonized over whether he might have recruited Page into the movement or inspired him to act out the massacre. Plucking up the courage and determined to take his life in a different direction, Arno contacted Pardeep and invited him to dinner. Pardeep admits to a certain skepticism but, after much soul-searching, he decided to hear out a man claiming to be a reformed character. It has proved a shrewd move.
Pardeep and Arno have grown close. So close that each has an identical tattoo on his palm that reads 8-5-12, the date that Page claimed six innocent lives, to mark the starting point in their project. That project is called Serve2Unite and is a programme that strives to counter violence with peace. Arno is the proof that it can be done and that anything is possible. Together – connected – this odd couple are making a difference in Milwaukee.
‘We were both hoping that we could take something tragic and turn it into something positive – a learning experience for the entire community,’ says Pardeep. ‘We were both on that same mission in our different ways. We realized that the reason that these things happen is that we magnify the differences between people. We don’t magnify the similarities. So one of our main goals is to magnify those similarities and to say, ‘Hey, I’m not so different from you, so let’s come together in a common cause’.’
Serve2Unite is doing great things – in schools and out in the community – and we hope you’ll take five minutes to look at their website and think about their mission. It’s the same one that drives our efforts here at OM®. One founded in love and kindness and the quest for a more peaceful planet. One that believes that, deep down, beneath all the nonsense, we are all connected.
We’ll leave you with an extract from something that Arno has written, something profound that has struck quite a chord here . . .
‘We choose to sow seeds of kindness and to practice the nourishment of compassion. Though we come from all corners of the Earth, we share. Though our complexions may fall anywhere along the wonderful spectrum of human skin color. Though we may exist anywhere amidst a natural diversity of gender and sexuality. Though we may be eternally grateful to worship in an infinite number of ways, or seemingly not at all . . .
‘We all share the same capacity for spirituality – the study and practice of noble human qualities. Like the qualities our lost loved ones taught us. We are all able to give gifts of compassion, courage and wisdom in an abundance limited only by our will to love. We can guide the next suffering and isolated individual to embrace our interdependence. We can address conflict with care and co-operation. We can shape the reality we collaboratively create to be one of uplift and healing’. Here at OM®, we couldn’t agree more.