There are many factors we cannot control that shape us into the people we are and influences we might not even recognize until we have distance and perspective.
When we are able to recognize those factors and the unhealthy traits we have developed, we’re faced with a choice to change or slip back into our old ways.
Chris Buckley had a difficult childhood. Raised in Cleveland, his father was bigoted and an alcoholic, and would whip Buckley for anything bad he might have done while his dad was gone.
When he was old enough, he joined the Army. For 13 years he served, going overseas and training to fight a very specific people group.
“Every paper target I ever shot was a Muslim,” he told The Washington Post in 2018. “Every bit of bayonet training or hand-to-hand combat, it was other soldiers dressed up like Muslims.”
His hatred grew, and he hand-tattooed the Arabic word “Infidel” on the back of his arm.
“I wanted them to know I was the one the imam warned them about,” he said.
After over a dozen years serving his country, he was in an accident that resulted in him suffering a broken back.
His time in the military was over, and soon, he was addicted to painkillers, then cocaine and then meth.
“He wasn’t the man I married,” his wife Melissa said.
But it got worse. His hatred snowballed and he joined the Georgia White Knights as an imperial nighthawk, even involving his young son.
Home life wasn’t going so well, either.
As his children participated with him and absorbed their father’s rhetoric, they began to use racist terms and their mother soon feared for their safety.
She went online and found a former KKK member, Arno Michaelis, who became the family’s saving grace.
“Melissa was done with the Klan and worried about Chris’ safety,” Michaelis said. “I told her I thought we could help.”
In 2016, Michaelis first met Buckley and as the months passed, Buckley started to question his place in the KKK.
When he tried to leave, he was tricked by a Klansman and former friend who took him to a place where he was ambushed by four robed Klansmen, who beat him. He had personally trained three of them.
Buckley had a long way to go to becoming a productive member of society, but over time he managed to get clean.
He also got involved in the community, met a lot of homeless people, and felt his hatred disappearing, despite the rough upbringing and life circumstances he’d experienced.
One of the biggest tests of his growth was when he met — and eventually became good friends with — the exact type of person that triggered him most: Syrian Muslim refugee (and doctor) Heval Mohamed Kelli.
“People like Dr. Kelli came into my life, and he was the exact description of what I hated: he was a Syrian Muslim refugee coming here,” Buckley told WTVC-TV this month. “If they’d have known me five years ago and know me now …”
But now that he has seen the transformation in his own life, and how he was able to release his hatred and embrace love instead, he’s hoping his story will prompt others to make a similar change.
“People change,” he said. “You just have to give them the opportunity.”
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