He sat in a roller chair on the stage of the Smith-Hutson Auditorium with his hat turned backwards wearing a blue “Phillies” shirt, tan pants and black tennis shoes.
He stared at the ground as he gripped the microphone with both hands and began to tell his life story, starting with his childhood days in west Philadelphia, and then describing his days as a former Neo-Nazi supporter turned anti-hate activist.
Frank Meeink delivered his message of tolerance to about 500 Sam Houston State University students Tuesday night at 8 p.m. as a testament that people can change their lifestyle, but only if they want to see a higher truth.
Spectators littered the aisles searching for a seat while others stood at the back of the auditorium to hear Meeink’s life story.
SHSU’s Program Council and Hillel, the Jewish student organization, organized the presentation.
Laura Springel, programming chair for Program Council, said Meeink’s story was to promote education, and experience new ideas and views of other cultures and groups.
“I was really impressed because we do programs for the whole campus and a lot of times we will get maybe 30 or 40 people and to me that is awesome,” Springel said. “I am thrilled with 40 or 50 people, but to have a group of about 500 people come out is amazing, and I think it truly shows how interested and willing our campus is to educate themselves and hear other points of view.”
Meeink said he does not have regrets in his life except that he did not talk to people of a different color and learn more about them.
“My biggest regret is that I didn’t open my mind and the only thing I know 100 percent, the only thing I know is, I don’t know (anything). I know nothing. Every day, I keep my mind open to learning. If I shut my mind, I’m losing out. My life is nothing if I close my mind,” Meeink said.
Meeink explained how living in a home without the guidance of parental figures led him to find acceptance and comfort with skinheads at the age of 13. By 17, Meeink said he was arresteor kidnapping and assaulting a rival skinhead.
He served one and a half years of a three to five year sentence in an Illinois State Prison. While in prison he started to read the Bible with a new outlook, and to attend Bible study groups with a prayer group comprised of black men who welcomed him.
“Let’s thank God for bringing Frankie into the cell,” the group told him during his first prayer meeting.
“It made you feel a little better,” Meeink said.
It was a continual changing process for Meeink, but he said the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was a major turning point in his life.
“It was the 19 kids that kept killing me inside,” he said “I felt so evil, and I wouldn’t go outside because I was afraid people would see me and say, ‘That dude kills kids.'”
Meeink went to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to share his stories of the skinhead movement and later talked about tolerance to a Civil Rights Panel.
He was invited to the suburbs of Philadelphia to speak to a fourth-grade class on his experience. The class later sent Meeink letters stating what they learned from his speech.
“I just cried on those letters all the time,” he said.
Now 27, Meeink is the founder of the Hockey for Harmony Foundation, which encourages youth of all races to play hockey. The hockey team’s goal is to allow children to work and live in harmony.
“That program is a miracle for me, to have the opportunity to work with those kids,” he said.
Meeink delivered a simple message when he said, “What goes around, comes around. If you pick on someone, you’re going to get picked on.
“God works through people,” he said. “I knew God constantly put people in my life to make me see this.”
Meeink’s story received a positive response from audience members as some people asked questions and others complemented Meeink on sharing his story.
“Your story will never get old in this day and age,” an audience member said.
Sophomore Amy Anderson said Meeink delivered a message to stop hate and explained how people can change their lives.
“I thought Frank had a really, really good message to deliver especially on a somewhat controversial day the campus has been experiencing,” Anderson said. “He had a message; let’s stop hate and not continue it. (Meeink said) I’ve reformed and learned my way through the Bible. I thought he had a really excellent message to deliver to people. I would not have missed it for anything.”
Anderson said it does not matter whether people came to the presentation to hear the message, or because of the attention it received, because Meeink came to speak, and people stayed because they were able to connect with him in some way.
“People can change and just because they were one way, at one time, doesn’t mean they are going to continue to be that way,” she said “We can’t judge them by what they were in their past.”
Senior Chad Prado left work early to attend the presentation.
“The speech was definitely great,” Prado said. “It had a great message to it. He overcame a lot. It was a really great speech.”
Springel said she wanted to have this presentation from Meeink to bring something interesting to SHSU that generally isn’t shared.
“We don’t really sit outside the box to experience other people’s views and cultures, and that is what you come to college for, to get an understanding of everybody in the world, not just to go to class,” Springel said.
The 1998 film, “American History X” was loosely based on Meeink’s life.
“(My experiences were) mostly spiritual, soul-searching (than the movie portrayed),” he said. “I found everything I needed in my spiritual journey and that is what gets me closer to a higher truth.”