Filled with powerful stories of men and women in the public eye who have broken the barriers of divorce, addiction, racism, abuse, miscarriage, shame and more, I Found Love: True Stories of Discovering Love, Belonging and Friendship, will release from the global storytelling organization I Am Second. I Found Love is authored by Doug Bender, I Am Second’s Chief Content Writer, and published by Nelson Books.
The below is an excerpt that specifically focuses on a former white supremacist who turned hate into love.
“If you love those who love you,” Jesus once proposed, “what reward will you get?…If you greet only your own people, what more are you doing than others? Even people who are ungodly do that.” Jesus’ point was simple. You want to be a good person? Then you’ll have to go beyond what everyone else does. All people, no matter how evil, will have someone they love and care for. If you, too, only love those who love you back, then you are not a good person; you are simply like everyone else.
“Love your enemies,” he said. “Pray for those who hurt you. . . . Your Father who is in heaven. . . . causes his sun to shine on evil people and good people. He sends rain on those who do right and those who don’t. . . . Be perfect, just as the Father in heaven is perfect.”
Perfection in the eyes of God is love unbounded and for all: friends, family, neighbors, and, yes, even enemies. When African American probation officer Tiffany Whittier was assigned to white supremacist Michael Kent as her next case, that’s exactly what she decided to do.
As a proud holder of white- supremacist ideology, the belief that white people are better than people of other races and should be dominant over them, Michael Kent represented a rising tide in race-related tension.
Although he was never convicted of a hate crime, it was while in prison for drug and weapons-related charges that he came to believe in neo-Nazism. Michael would later grow to even actively promote and grow the movement. “I started getting involved with the higher-ups in the organization,” he says. “I helped organize rallies, handing out pamphlets, and going to the state capitol to promote that stuff.”
His hate began in part as a response to race-related encounters in his childhood neighborhood. He was bullied by black children, and his mother was assaulted by a black man. The trauma of these incidents began to instill a fear and suspicion of African Americans. And then another incident cemented the faulty assumptions he had begun to draw.
Meanwhile, African American probation officer, Tiffany Whittier, grew up and lived with the systemic version of color-based prejudice. But despite being surrounded by such an environment, Tiffany made a choice for love, not hate. This held true even when assigned to Michael’s case.
“I had an idea of who he was by looking at him on paper,” Tiffany says. “…but I didn’t feel in my gut that I was in danger meeting with him.”
If first impressions matter, this one certainly made a mark on both of them. Michael was impressed with Tiffany’s boldness in showing up to his house alone. But as she entered his house, the dominating impression she gained was of hate. A picture of Adolf Hitler hung on Michael’s wall. Symbols of racism, violence, and evil crowded his home. She knew her mission would need to go beyond just managing his court-appointed duties.
She would need to remake his vision of the world.
“He’s always been compliant with me,” Tiffany says of her neo-Nazi client. “I’ve had to talk with him about some issues, but he turned it around. I never once thought about revoking his probation because he did what I asked him to do. He always worked. He made payments toward his probation fines and fees and did what he needed to do.”
He’d been arrested before. Tiffany wasn’t his first probation officer. And she was different. She did more than just ensure compliance and arrange meetings. She cared.
“Why did you help me to change?” he asked.
“It’s my job.”
“Your job is to make sure I’m abiding by all the laws and not messing up,” he said, reflecting on his previous experiences with probation officers. “You were supposed to keep me from committing crimes. But why did you believe in me? That’s not your job.”
From the first day she showed up at his house, he’d sensed that Tiffany was different. She mixed courage with love, kindness with straight-talking concern. When she saw the pictures of Hitler on his wall, nothing in his court orders required him to take it down. But she knew his heart needed the pictures to go.
“You came into my house and told me to get rid of things that I believed in,” he continued. “Why? Why did you care?”
“I wanted you to be a better person,” she said. “That’s why I do my job.”
“But if you had met me in any other circumstance, I would have spit on you,” he said. “I don’t understand why you took this time. You encouraged me to change my life when my peers and my own people didn’t. Probation officers before never wanted to help me. Why did you?”
“I don’t know if I have ever told you this, Michael,” she said. “But I love you.” Tiffany wasn’t confessing romantic feelings, but a deep concern and care for a fellow human being. And when she said it, Michael cried. He knew she did love him
She had proven her care for him in all their meetings during the past few years. She had guided him out of hate, encouraging him to change the books he read, the pictures he hung, and the friends he chose. She had shown her love many times. But now she had said it.
“I’m going to tell you how the Lord feels about you. He saw you as a young boy, and he’s seen you grown into a man. He wants you to spread his word of love, acceptance, and forgiveness.”
“But how can you respect me and accept me with the things I’ve done?”
“God,” she said simply. “You question how you can be forgiven. God forgives no matter how bad our sins are. I forgive you because of God. He’s the reason I care for you and how I ended up in your life. But you have to forgive yourself.”
“Two years ago I would have said you’re a liar,” he said. “But I’ve seen all you’ve done. I’m a firm believer in that now.”
Michael spent twenty years of his life in hate and has determined to spend the next twenty years helping people to love. “It’s so easy to love,” he says. “It takes much more energy to hate. Racism is a cancer, and it’s spreading throughout this country. It will continue to spread until we can get together as one and cure it. What Tiffany did for me was ahead of her time. She could have gotten in trouble for it.”
Love wins. In a world full of hate and violence, that truth can be forgotten. But hate only survives in hiding and in the darkness. Love wins just by showing up and knocking on the door.
Everything we do or experience is a God-given opportunity to love if we can see that way. If we are looking to change the world and make an impact, we have to remember that the only thing eternal in this life, the only thing that will ever truly last, is the love we give to others. That’s how we can truly make an impact into eternity.
This is an excerpt from I Found Love: The True Stories of Discovering Love, Belonging, and Friendship by Doug Bender, a new book from the global storytelling organization “I Am Second.”
Doug Bender serves as Chief Content Writer for I Am Second, developing resources and materials or leaders to help individuals understand what it means to “Live Second.” He also authored Live Second: A Daily Guide to
Live a God-honoring Life and I Choose Peace: Raw Stories of Real
People Finding Contentment and Happiness.