The first racist tattoo Michael Kent got were the words “white pride,” spanning the top of his back.
Then came the two swastikas — one in the center of his chest — that stained his skin for over 20 years, ABC News reported.
Kent used to be a white supremacist.
“I was part of a skinhead group,” Kent, who lives in Colorado, told ABC. “A very violent group.”
He believed strongly in the organization’s ideals. For instance, Kent refused to work for anybody — or even with anybody — who wasn’t white.
But one woman made him rethink everything.
Tiffany Whittier, who is black, became his parole officer. Meeting her changed his life for good.
She was a positive force in his life and challenged him to rethink how he viewed race and equality.
“I had a German war [Nazi] flag, and she said, ‘You need to take that crap down and start putting up more positive stuff!'” Kent told ABC News. “‘Put up smiley faces so when you wake up, you see positive instead of hate.'”
Her encouragement worked; Kent’s outlook and attitudes have changed dramatically since befriending Whittier.
It’s not necessarily surprising, either — this change in mindset goes hand-in-hand with research. A 2014 study, for example, found that when white people interact with more people of color, they’re less likely to hold racist views.
“If it wasn’t for her, I probably would have been seeped back into [white supremacy],” Kent explained. “I look at her as family.”
Now, Kent’s “white pride” and swastika tattoos have been removed by Redemption Ink, a nonprofit that offers free removals of hate-inspired designs to patrons. All of his coworkers at the Colorado chicken farm where he works — as well as most of his friends — are people of color.
“We have company parties, or they have quinceaneras, BBQs, or birthday parties — I’m the only white guy there,” Kent said.
Whittier modestly brushed off the affect she’s had on Kent: “My job is to be that positive person in someone’s life,” she said. “[I] try to make a difference.”
But to Kent — a father to two young children — Whittier’s nothing short of heroic. “She gave me the strength and the courage to do what I’m doing,” he said. “She gave me a chance, and it opened my eyes.”
ABC News facilitated a surprise reunion between the two, who hadn’t seen each other in over a year.
Whittier was in on the plan, but Kent — who seemed a bit lost for words as he embraced her in a hug — was beyond excited to see the friend who changed his life forever.
Watch the beautiful moment in the video below:
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Tags: The Conversation