While listening to the overwhelming story told by the keynote speaker in Lipkin Theater, a concluding ideology stuck a question in mind. What does it take to come back from hate?
Sammy Rangel, peace activist, spoke at the 10th annual peace conference held at Northampton Community College about his previous encounters with hate, his incarceration, his ability to change and his abusive childhood which lead to criminal behavior.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re having a difficult time and often times it looks like you’re giving people a difficult time, but it really means you’re having a difficult time, you need support too,” Rangel said.
Founder of Formers Anonymous, a group of men and women who identified a shared problem of attachment and addiction to criminal and/or drug lifestyles, Rangel gave a disclaimer before he dove into the topic of hate.
“Some of the content you are going to hear could be disturbing, but it comes from a place of learned lessons, it comes from a place of compassion, empathy, forgiveness, growth, unity and change,” Rangel said.
“What I have done through listening to the many people that I’ve helped was creating a program that is probably the first of its kind. And it’s for men and women who are addicted to hate, to violence, to street life who live with long-term effects of incarceration, isolation, segregation and then knowing that there’s others out here supporting them through that process,” Rangel said.
Rangel discussed his past, his experience with hate and how it could take hold and addressed the audience to think about who writes their story.
“The suffering I’m going to lay out for you today is not just a unique experience of my own, it is a human experience that many of us suffer through,” said Rangel to the audience.
During his speech, Rangel talked about a Ted Talk he presented in Turkey about the idea of forgiveness. “I think we have these myths around forgiveness, these ideas that makes it hard to forgive, such as some things are unforgivable,” said Rangel whose understanding of both sides of the argument made him able to relate with those who listened.
Speaking more of his group, Formers Anonymous, Rangel said, “up until now if you were living and struggling with criminality you could only go to groups that dealt with drugs and alcohol as issues. This is the first where we are really acknowledging that there can be behavioral addictions that don’t necessarily revolve around substance abuse.”
Formers Anonymous is just one of the many programs part of the Life After Hate. Other programs include Exit USA, providing support to individuals who are looking to leave racism and violence behind, Against Violent Extremism Network and Strong Cities Network.
Life After Hate had received $400,000 in funding from the Obama administration as it saw the group as a necessity to the community, yet the current administration had pulled the funding and “knocked the wind out of us” as Rangel said. Not giving up the fight against hate, Rangel said “we weren’t going to let a setback like this deter us, however, it was going to force us to slow down what we were ramping up to do at that time.”
However, two weeks after their funding had been pulled the general assembly of the United Nations emailed the group asking them to receive the Humanitarian Award for their efforts for, as Rangel said, doing the work they were defunded for.
When talking about change, Rangel said, “many ways we talk about change as if it’s a very simple process. That changing is a very simple process and this is probably what lends itself to the frustration we have, with others and ourselves, when we, or they, are not successful with change. We expect people to be able to change, however, the estimate is that 80 percent of all attempts at simple things to change fail.” Engaging the audience with questions about changing personal habits, Rangel was able to show that change was not simple and is indeed hard.
Rangel, through his powerpoint, showed pictures of himself as a child, detailing each step of his life that would lead up to his criminal actions, the abuse him and his siblings had suffered at the hands of their parents. He displayed an article about his brother being beaten with a by their mother.
“This article was written January 5th, 1969, and that the time of this picture my brother was twenty-months old. My mother had beaten my brother with a Tonka truck. She fractured his skull, he was a mass with bruises, he was in and out of consciousness and was bleeding from various wounds around his body. My mother was five months pregnant with me at that time,” Rangel said.
A brief silence followed those words as the audience soaked up the idea and emotional damage that was caused to Sammy Rangel before he was even born.
Rangel continued with his life story of being abused by his parents, of running away and being homeless by the age of fourteen, of his encounter with a prison race riot during his incarceration, to how he became aware of the situation around him and decided to change his life.
With passion in his voice, Rangel addressed the audience about the need to understand people before judging them, to listen instead of judge and to be willing to understand.
“Life After Hate is unique in the sense that we’re the only organization in the country whose created a safe space for these men and women to land on when they finally decide enough is enough. It’s creating a space they know exists for them,” Rangel said.
The importance of listening and understand was vocalized by Randall as he preceded to enlighten the audience on how little acts of understanding could change someone’s perspective.
“It wasn’t until someone came along and listened from that place that I’m sharing with you that I could let some of that defense down and start working on changing how hurt I was,” Rangel said.
Rangel wrote an autobiography titled “Fourbears: The Myths of Forgiveness” about his childhood and if you wish to know more about the group visit www.lifeafterhate.org.
“We cannot be resistant to the resistance, we cannot be hateful in the face of hate, we cannot be indifferent in the face of indifference, we cannot be hopeless in the face of hopelessness. Rather than asking or thinking somethings wrong with someone we need to understand that underneath this (criminal)behavior something is not working out well for this person and we need to try to understand what that is,” Rangel said.