Former skinhead now advocates for tolerance, diversity

Fear was a double edged sword for Frank Meeink.

He generated fear as a young skinhead gang member in South Philadelphia.

“I would see the fear in people’s eyes,” Meeink said. “I liked that. It made feel powerful.”

But Meeink was fearful himself.

He was afraid of being hungry. He was afraid of being abused by his step-father. He looked up to drug dealers, ex-convicts and others outside the law.

“Hard guys,” he called them.

Conversely, Meeink considered “lame” men who tried to do things for him his father did not – showing kindness toward him, taking him fishing or to sporting events.

And fellow skinheads gave him other things he never received at home.

“I was a gang member because they were giving me accolades, they were telling me how mean and how tough I was,” he said.

Violence was a way of life.

He and and gang members would beat people indiscriminately.

The South Philadelphia neighborhood he grew up in made him a prime candidate for the Neo-Nazi philosophy, which teaches white supremacy and hate towards other races.

He lived with his father in a section surrounded by by blacks, which meant he attended a black high school.

There, he was regularly bullied, terrorized and beaten.

At 14 he became a Skinhead.

Along the way there was abuse of alcohol, heroin and other drugs.

He rose through the Neo-Nazi ranks to become a leader, which took him to Illinois.

It was there he and another skinhead kidnapped a member of a rival gang, and videotaped his beating.

That lead to a three year prison sentence, and at age 18, his life began to change.

He played sports with fellow inmates, many of whom were black and Hispanic, and people he once hated because of the color of their skin became friends.

After prison he attempted to rejoin the Neo-Nazi movement but it didn’t last, he could not come to hate those he knew were his friends.

And life lessons from a Jewish furniture dealer who had hired Meeink and befriended him sunk in.

The former employer, in one dramatic moment convinced Meeink he was intelligent, and had much to offer.

He made a decision to turn his life and those of others around.

Recovery is now a frequent word in Meeink’s vocabulary.

He is a recovering skinhead, alcoholic and drug addict.

But his life passion now is teaching a message of diversity and harmony, especially those who are being bullied.

“I was bullied and was a bully myself,” he said.

His previous life, has, ironically, given him a skill set of experiences, which are invaluable when he talks to bullies, delinquents, gang members, No-Nazis or substance abusers.

His message gets through more often than not.

He has parlayed his love and knowledge of hockey into a valuable teaching tool.

Meeink established a multi-racial hockey program in Des Moines, where he has lived for 11 years with his wife and children.

“Harmony Through Hockey” has helped many a wayward youth.

“Hockey is a great team sport,” Meeink said. “And the kids

get the feelings of self worth, of being wanted, of contributing, that sometimes they don’t get at home,” he said.

Roller hockey – hockey played on roller skates – has caught on.

His dream is to build a roller hockey arena in the King-Irving neighborhood of Des Moines.

“Building that arena is my dream,” he said. “That will take money, but I’m working with Ako Abdul Samad (civil rights activist and legislator) and others.”

When not coaching hockey, he is an author, interventionist, lecturer and regular visitor to juvenile detention centers.

A movie about his book “Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead” is in the works.

He consults with television and movie producers.

A bus tour with former gang members – one black and one Hispanic – is in the works, as well as a trip to Australia.

Meeink will be the keynote speaker at the 2013 Marshalltown YMCA-YWCA Community Forum at noon on Oct. 8. For more information on the forum contact Bianca Greazel, 641-752-8658.

Additionally, Meeink is meeting with a high school book club, juvenile court authorities and other interested parties while in Marshalltown. His visit is a collaboration of the Friends of the Library, the Iowa Humanities Board Marshalltown YMCA-YWCA and Not In Our Town initiative.