A high-profile former skinhead will be speaking in Connecticut Wednesday. His talk follows several incidents of phoned-in bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers in Connecticut and across the country. The event is hosted by the Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut, and focuses on the story of how a white supremacist went from extremist to activist.
Frank Meeink became the face of neo-nazism in his teens. It may have started in his segregated Irish neighborhood in South Philadelphia. But when he moved to West Philadelphia and attended a predominantly black middle school, that’s when Meeink said everything changed.
"That’s when it became us and them," Meeink said. "There’s probably 700 students that went to Pepper Middle School and there’s probably 20 of us that were white males, that I know of, out of all them students."
As a teenager, Meeink made multiple appearances on national news programs, had a public access show called The Reich, and went to prison at the age of 17 for a violent kidnapping assault. But his belief system was tested as he developed friendships with Black and Latino inmates.
The pivotal moment came after prison when he landed a job with Keith Brookstein, a Jewish man in the antiques business. Meeink tells the story of how he accidentally broke a piece of furniture.
"And I was like, 'Keith, I’m so stupid, dude, I’m so sorry.' And he comes over, picks me up by the back of my neck and said, 'Stop saying you’re stupid, you idiot.' We got in the truck, and he just started unloading on me about how smart I am. I was so grateful to have a human being who said good things to me. That was like my last, last day, where I was like, alright, I’m done."
That incident happened 25 years ago. Today, Meeink regularly lectures on racial diversity and empathy. He wrote a memoir entitled Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead. He’s speaking at The Conservative Synagogue in Westport.