In The Schools

“Living Lessons” Teach Lazar Students Lifetime Lessons: Arno Michaelis, Former "Skinhead"

Former "skinhead" Arno Michaelis tells seventh graders at Lazar Middle School about his experiences at the school's Living Lessons event on May 14. Credits: Melissa Benno

MONTVILLE, NJ - On May 14, Montville’s Lazar Middle School hosted 52 speakers for its Living Lessons experience. The event, held every other year, centers on the promotion of tolerance, compassion and understanding as the students attend six lectures from people who have faced, survived and grown against terrible odds.

“I learned a lot about forgiveness,” stated seventh grader Nick Billand.

“I like how we learned from stories that seemed unreal, like the man who got shot by people he thought were his friends, but then he forgave them,” stated seventh grader Phil Trovato.

Sign Up for E-News

TAPintoMontville was there for the event, and will be running a series on the speakers.

“It’s important for me to own up to my past and how far this journey has taken me,” Arno Michaelis told his audience of 25 seventh graders at his Living Lessons seminar. Michaelis was a “skinhead” for seven years, singing in a rock band that spread messages of hatred through its song lyrics. 

Michaelis showed the students a video of one of his performances, warning them, “You’re going to hear some hateful language. It’s humiliating every time I hear myself saying it.

“How do you think I got to the point that I was so hateful I could scream that stuff?” Michaelis asked his audience.

“Practice,” stated one student.

“Exactly,” confirmed Michaelis. “When you practice, you get really good at it. You become familiar with violence. If that person is faced with love, how do you think it would make them feel?”

“They would push it away,” stated Cameron Roulier.

“Exactly – it would repulse you,” stated Michaelis.

Michaelis stated that his “practicing of violence” began when he was growing up in a suburb of Milwaukee.

“I had a normal childhood. I had a lot of positive affirmations from my parents. The doctors told my parents I was a ‘gifted genius,’ so they let me be wild,” Michaelis related.

Michaelis stated that his father was an alcoholic and his parents spent a lot of time fighting about it.

When he was young, he wanted to “bolt all the time. My mom would find me miles down the road. I distanced myself from my parents physically, emotionally and spiritually,” stated Michaelis.

“But ‘hurt’ people, hurt people,” stated Michaelis. “If someone is doing violence, it’s because they’re having a hard time. Suffering is a cycle -- people pass it on.  I bullied kids on the school bus, and felt power from making the teachers and principal mad.”

In middle school he started breaking and entering houses and vandalizing them; by high school, he was taking drugs and drinking alcohol.

When Michaelis was 16, he attended a punk music concert and it gave him a thrill to hear the “white power skinhead music,” as Michaelis described it.

“The idea of white supremacy was very attractive to me,” said Michaelis. “It gave me a feeling of power.”

Michaelis joined a band called Centurion as their lead singer.

“I was working in a t-shirt printing store, and every Wednesday was payday, so I would treat myself to a Big Mac,” remembered Michaelis. “There was an elderly black lady working at the counter. She had a sunny smile for everybody. Her smile made me uncomfortable, because I couldn’t hate her.

“One Saturday night, I attended a party where there was a homemade tattoo machine. I got a swastika tat on my hand. The next time I went to McDonalds, I tried to hide the tat but that lady saw it.

“’I know who you are, and that’s not who you are,’ she told me.  I’d like to say that that changed my life, but it took seven years,” stated Michaelis.

“That night I picked a fight with the first person I could.  I hurt myself a lot and have post concussion syndrome now. I tried to put as much distance between that moment of humanity that I possibly could because it made me so uncomfortable.”

Michaelis said it was exhausting to maintain a life of hatred, because it was limiting. He couldn’t watch his favorite football team, because blacks and whites played on the team together and didn’t hate each other. So he would sneak away from friends to watch the games. He couldn’t videotape his girlfriend’s favorite TV show for her, because it was “Seinfeld,” which centered on Jewish people. So he taped it anyway but wrote “Amber’s 2nd Birthday Party” on the spine of the video.

“It was exhausting to hurt people with my bare hands because of their skin color. I was doing stupid things but I wasn’t unintelligent because I knew I was such a hypocrite. I knew in my heart it was the wrong thing to do.”

The moments that resulted in his leaving the skinhead movement forever, though, were his friend being shot and killed and becoming a single parent to his then-18-month-old daughter.

“She is 22 years old now, and everything that’s great about my life,” stated Michaelis.  “But I also have that woman at McDonalds to thank.  It isn’t easy to be nice to people who are being jerks, but what if you practice kindness?  Your kindness can literally change someone’s life.  I’ve spoken to about 20,000 in the course of the five years that I’ve been speaking, and that woman has changed their lives too.  It’s not unreasonable to think that one act of kindness changed the world.  Our kindness needs to be like the sun.”

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Upcoming Events


Sat, February 24, 10:00 AM

Pyramid Mountain, Montville Township

"Forever Green" Hike (10&up)

Education Health & Wellness


Sat, February 24, 1:00 PM

Montville Township Public Library, Montville

Lunar New Year Celebration at Library

Arts & Entertainment Education Food & Drink


Sun, February 25, 1:00 PM

Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area, Montville Township

Snowshoe Sundays at Pyramid Mtn

Health & Wellness


Sun, February 25, 5:00 PM

Montville Township High School, Montville

Harlem Wizards Fundraiser for Pathways

Education Food & Drink Giving Back Sports


Mon, February 26, 7:00 PM

Senior House, Montville

Montville Republican Club February Meeting


Adults Who Interact With Teens Offered Free Youth Mental Health First Aid Training

February 24, 2018

With teenage suicide rates on an upswing, a barrage of tragedies in the news, and the heightened pressures of adolescence in a media-frenzied world, it’s more important than ever for caring adults to know how to intervene effectively.

Morris County again this year is funding Youth Mental Health First Aid training through NewBridge Services for adults who regularly interact with children ...

Boy Scout Michael Manetta Achieves Eagle Scout Ranking

February 11, 2018

MONTVILLE, NJ – Members of Boy Scout Troop 74 gathered on Jan. 14 as Scout Michael Manetta was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout at his Court of Honor.

Officials such as members of the Montville Township Committee, the Montville Township Board of Education, former post commander Frank Warholic of VFW Post 5481, Dee Cook, who is treasurer of the Dog Park Advisory Committee and Fishawack ...

SHREK THE MUSICAL Comes to Montville Township High School

February 19, 2018

MONTVILLE, NJ- SHREK THE MUSICAL is the spring production for the Montville Township High School Drama Club. The performers will stage the Tony Award-winning musical Thursday through Sunday, March 1 through 4 at MTHS. SHREK THE MUSICAL is based on the 2001 Dreamworks movie. Tickets to this fun family production are only $15 for adults and $12 for students and senior ...

Talking Baseball in Februrary; Roxbury Teen Keeps Swinging for Cancer Patients

February 24, 2018

ROXBURY, NJ - Major League pitchers and catchers reported for their first workouts last week, one sign that baseball season is on its way. Another: The beginning of Roxbury High School student Landon Monro's annual effort to register players and sponsors for his anti-cancer baseball tournament.

The 5th Annual Landon Monro Stand Up to Cancer tournament ...

Cops Called for Two People Shouting Racial Slurs During ‘Black Panther’ in Sparta

February 21, 2018

SPARTA, NJ – Sparta police were called to the New Vision Sparta Theater on Sunday night after a drunken woman and her boyfriend interrupted a screening of the movie “Black Panther” by shouting racial slurs, according to a witness and police.

Former New Jersey Assembly candidate Michael Grace was in the theater when two people started yelling racial slurs including ...

Adults Who Interact With Teens Offered Free Youth Mental Health First Aid Training

February 24, 2018

With teenage suicide rates on an upswing, a barrage of tragedies in the news, and the heightened pressures of adolescence in a media-frenzied world, it’s more important than ever for caring adults to know how to intervene effectively.

Morris County again this year is funding Youth Mental Health First Aid training through NewBridge Services for adults who regularly interact with children ...


How to Talk with Kids About the Florida Shooting

February 15, 2018

The tragedy of the Florida school shooting is devastating, leaving 17 killed and 15 injured. Our children can easily identify with what occurred. It will be the topic of conversation today in schools everywhere. School administrators are doing all they can to provide support and guidance. The shootings affect children, teachers, and school personnel. The school shooting can have an ...

Ask the Care Advocate

Dear Heidi,

My mom lives home alone and a few days ago she fell while reaching for something

in her hallway closet. She was able to push her emergency alert button and they

called me. I live nearby so I went to check on her and she had pain in her leg and hip

area. We got her to the hospital and it turns out that she broke her hip. She had

surgery to repair it and now we are faced ...

Century 21 The Crossing Open Houses this Weekend

MONTVILLE, NJ - Following are Century 21 Open Houses this weekend:

Saturday, Feb. 24 from 1 - 4 p.m.

Brownstones at Fairfield, Stonybrook Circle (Using GPS - Enter 66 Two Bridges Road)

Sunday, Feb. 25 from 1 - 4 p.m. 

Brownstones at Fairfield, Stonybrook Circle (Using GPS - Enter 66 Two Bridges Road)
8 Summit Drive, Bld #10, North Caldwell


Another Luxury Listing in the Pond Section of Montville Presented by Century 21 The Crossing

MONTVILLE, NJ - Century 21 the Crossing and Jason Failla do it again!  Another luxury listing in the Pond section of Montville.

"This new listing has had over 13,000 views in less then a week," Century 21 The Crossing's Jason Failla said. "Anyone can list your home, it takes a comprehensive marketing strategy to sell it!"

"Luxury is in each ...


AtlantiCast: Episode 12

On this week’s episode of AtlantiCast, decade of excellence makes headlines, as Atlantic Health’s place on Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For List leads off the newest episode of AtlantiCast. Also on this week’s show, check out the newest “hybrid” operating room at Morristown Medical Center and find out how Atlantic Health is helping local ...

The Best Way to Pay Your Child a Compliment

“Of course you’re good-looking.”  “You’re the best friend ever.”  “Who wouldn’t want you on their team?”  Is there a parent out there (including me) who hasn’t praised a child in order to make him or her feel better?  Sometimes it’s true, and sometimes we say it because we just can’t stand to see them ...

'What Stays' exposes family secrets and lies

‘What Stays’ exposes family secrets, resentment and lies

By Liz Keill

SUMMIT, NJ – In an original play by Laura Ekstrand and Jason Szamreta, the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre has provided an enlightening, funny and heart-felt view of family foibles.

Ekstrand has said that the germ of the play came from conversations with the ensemble members of the troupe, based on ...

Pet Corner