|Left photo of Angela King by Mark Seliger via GoMag.com
By Erickka Sy Savané
ALL excerpts taken from Corinne Werder‘s story on Gomag.com
|King’s tattoos inspired by racist norse mythology/Courtesy of Angela King
It was 1998. King, who had been in neo-Nazi and racist skinhead groups since she was in high school, found herself sentenced to 70 months in federal prison for her involvement in a robbery and beating of a Jewish store owner.
“Do you know how to play cribbage?”
Startled but intrigued, King sat down with a group of Black women who taught her how to play the game. And from then on, all the racist and homophobic comments her parents had drilled into her as a child in rural Florida, all the negative beliefs that had poisoned her mind for years, began to melt away. She was shown compassion and love from women whom she knew she didn’t deserve it from — and to whom she wouldn’t have given the same respect before entering prison. It completely disarmed her.
“From that experience, everything that I expected, all my preconceived ideas of what was going to happen and the opinions I had already formed of other women, were absolutely inaccurate and did not come true.”
|Angela with the Jamaica women she befriended in prison via Daily Mail/Courtesy Angela King
“I credit them with changing and saving my life. And with teaching what real friendship is and what it means to love someone unconditionally.”
“I lived a life with very limited thought, very little room for anything other than yes or no, black or white, there is no in-between. Then all of a sudden, the world was in color and everything was full, every conversation, every friendship, every decision meant something completely different than it would have before. I felt like I was reborn.”
The first woman King fell in love with hated her. She was a Black woman, and she knew exactly why King was incarcerated. While passing King in the hallway, she muttered under her breath something along the lines of, “How does someone even end up like you?” and King decided to turn around and respond to her.
They began a friendship that slowly evolved into something more. When they got past their hatred for one another, they were able to see how much they had in common, and they built a strong connection through that. It was a love that King had never allowed herself to explore before. As she stripped herself of all the shame around being a lesbian, she finally allowed herself to really experience loving another woman for the first time. The two women are still friends today. King often tells her, “Thanks for hating me, but then thanks for loving me, because you changed everything.”
At the same time, King is aware of her advantages as a white person.
“I’m somewhat marginalized because I’m a member of the LGBTQ community, but any time, I could hide it if I had to. A person of color can’t come home and hang up the color of their skin one day and suddenly be treated like a white American. I do have hope, but at the same time there has to be reconciliation.”
|King speaking on National Organization for Women (NOW) panel /Courtesy of Angela King via GoMag.com
One of the reasons King speaks so publicly about her violent past is because she wants to help others transform their lives. She began the work of healing communities and doing outreach while on parole by sharing her story with criminal justice students at a local community college. She didn’t start off with an intention to help reformed violent extremists. At first, King was horrified when her probation officer asked her to share her story. But she wanted to be different, so she took a risk and began publicly speaking about her violent past in hopes to heal herself and others. She worked alone in outreach for a decade.
Then, in 2011, King attended a conference in Dublin with other former violent far-right extremists. Together, they started Life After Hate. “We made a commitment to come home and work together to move forward,” King says. They worked rapidly, and in just three months, established a nonprofit.
The group went on to win an Emmy for producing a PSA that featured a former white supremacist who once beat up a homeless gay boy. Years later, after the skinhead changed his life, he met the boy he had beaten and made amends. The spot demonstrates that “there is still time to make the right decisions and stop hurting other people and hurting ourselves.” (The PSA led to Life After Hate winning its first federal grant under the Obama administration. Unfortunately, before they received the $400,000, the Trump administration rescinded the grant. Fundraising is still making up for the loss.)
But there’s one person she can’t reach — her childhood self. If she had the power to go back in time and drop some of her hard-won wisdom on the little girl that went down a dark, violent and hateful path before seeing the light, “I would tell that poor girl to love herself and that it’s okay to be who she is.”