Denver, Colorado (Updated for ANS) – Former neo-Nazi Michael Kent’s story dominated tens of millions of screens around the world. Major media outlets recorded his removal of two swastikas and racist tattoos. His African-American parole officer watched approvingly. Their unlikely friendship inspired a nation.
The story was about Colorado resident Michael Kent sitting down at the Fallen Hero’s tattoo parlor in Colorado Springs in late 2017 to have his swastikas covered up. Kent, however, a former neo-Nazi, credits his African-American parole officer, Tiffany Whittier, with helping him to see beyond skin color and changing his views about white supremacy.
In the wake of the Ahmaud Arbery killing, the Michael Kent story inspires us afresh to find faith and hope in the God of reconciliation.
Tiffany shares how, as a probation officer, she had read Michael’s file before her visit. She knew, as she arrived that night for the first time, that Michael was a white supremacist. He was shocked when she showed up at his door alone. He was impressed by her courage and could not understand her determination to help him be a better person.
My Family Were Not Racists
Raised in Pennsylvania amid Christian family members who Kent says “weren’t racists,” he went to church for the last time about 17 years ago. That is, until Assist News writer Steve Rees, a resident of Longmont, Colorado, invited him.
Major television networks from England, Italy, Australia, and the United States filmed Kent’s tattoo removal in Colorado Springs. The recording continued in Fort Lupton where probation officer Whittier surprised the former inmate by knocking on his rural farm door as a camera recorded their reunion. That video alone, courtesy of ABC News – received over 50 million views.
Steve, a volunteer writer for Assist News, wrote that he assumed Kent lived in Colorado Springs. Non-profit Redemption Ink and the Fallen Heroes Tattoo parlor joined forces to pay for and remove his supremacist symbols.
“However, unbeknownst to me,” Steve said, “when I contacted him, Kent lived a 20-minute drive from my home. He immediately appreciated my comment, ‘I’m praying for you, along with many other Christians,‘ and agreed to tell me more of his story,” wrote Steve.
“We met on Christmas Eve for a meal after I attended an early church service, and days before Kent expected his kiddos to arrive from Arizona. Kent shared details of his life as a neo-Nazi that few have heard. Hearing his children wanted to go to church with their dad during their holiday break, I invited the family to join me for a New Year’s service.”
Swastikas To Smiles and Hate To Forgiveness
Like millions of others, however, Steve wanted to hear more about Kent’s story. How did an African-American female probation officer influence a hardened white, male former inmate to take down his swastikas and pictures of Adolph Hitler and replace them with smiley faces? Their amazing story is told in the two videos courtesy of I am Second and ABC News.
Kent did attend church with Steve the next week. “My kids have a right to do or be anything they want to…I won’t stop them…If they want to believe in God, go to church. I don’t go to church, but I’m not stopping them from going,” Kent said.
“If I had had a strong support system — people like you praying for me as they are now — it probably wouldn’t have turned out the way it did,” Kent said.
Kent said, I never had a father in my life
“I started searching out white supremacist groups,” said Kent, who was living on his own at 15. “Mostly, I never had a father in my life. I got into drugs and a lot of the white supremacists were involved in drugs,” he said. “By the time I was 18-years-old, I was locked up for moving a lot of drugs.”
It was the birth of Kent’s first child, Michael, Jr., and Whittier’s positive influence that helped him turn the corner, replacing hate with love and respect. “I was so happy when my son was born. But it was also the saddest moment of my life because, as I looked into my boy’s eyes, I realized how many kids’ lives I destroyed by promoting hate.”