In The Schools

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

7b6d0b35dd0f1469dd0d_living_lessons_001_crop.jpg
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
7b6d0b35dd0f1469dd0d_living_lessons_001_crop.jpg

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

Montville

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_3f9e1d46bda413aee0fe_pyramid_mountain_sign_watermark

Sun, May 27, 2:00 PM

Pyramid Mountain, Montville Township

Woodland Tree Walk: Moderate

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_aa295fc6005d625aee04_mini_magick20180507-110570-11z5yr6

Mon, May 28

Montville Township, Montville

Memorial Day

Giving Back

Tue, May 29, 10:00 AM

Montville Township Public Library, Montville

Storytime

Education

Carousel_image_e0e7d0a5a9b140835150_trinity_christian_school_students_commemorate_veterans_day_2016__2018_tapinto_montville

Wed, May 30, 11:00 AM

Montville Township Community Park - VFW Post 5481, Montville

Memorial Day Commemoration by VFW

Giving Back

Carousel_image_06425c221f5dc443409d_mini_magick20180507-110605-14u7w3

Thu, May 31, 1:00 PM

Montville Township Public Library, Montville

Montville "U": Leonard Bernstein: America’s ...

Education

Butterfly Bonanza Flies to Pyramid Mountain June 9

May 26, 2018

MONTVILLE, NJ. On Saturday, June 9, from 12 - 4 p.m., celebrate the beauty and importance of New Jersey’s butterflies and other pollinators at the annual Butterfly Bonanza at Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area in Montville Township.

Butterfly Bonanza is packed with excitement, entertainment, and education for all ages. Enjoy a guided ‘Bug Safari’ tour of ...

1000+ Luminaries Glowed for Inclusion Throughout Montville Twp on 3rd Annual OneMontville Green In Day

May 23, 2018

MONTVILLE, NJ - On Friday, May 18, OneMontville, a non-profit in Montville Township, New Jersey dedicated to raising awareness for Acceptance, Respect and Kindness, hosted the 3rd Annual Green In Day. Elected officials, township employees, students, teachers, business owners and others wore green in support of the organization's mission to promote inclusion for all residents.

In ...

Cedar Hill 5th Grader Gets Pied for a Purpose

May 20, 2018

MONTVILLE, NJ – Joe Signorella, a fifth grader at Cedar Hill Elementary School in Towaco, wanted to come up with a great idea for his Treps marketplace booth. Treps is an afterschool program that teaches the students how to run a business: advertising, pricing, financing. But first you have to come up with your product or service.

Joe had some ideas, like selling soccer balls since he ...

10-Year Old Boy Battling Cancer Receives Generous Donation From Randolph Hockey Family

May 20, 2018

RANDOLPH, NJ- While the inter-town hockey battles on the ice between Randolph and Roxbury are fierce at every age level, when it comes to real life battles off the ice there is no hesitation to offer help to their neighbor.

Such is the case with a recent gesture of unity and support from the Randolph Varsity hockey team, when they came together to deliver good wishes and ...

Tour of Somerville Weekend: Quarter-Mile Sprints Add High-Speed Dynamic

May 22, 2018

SOMERVILLE, NJ  - The grand daddy of ‘em  all, the 75-year-old Tour of Somerville 50-mile bicycle race, anchors a weekend of world class cycling in Bound Brook and downtown Somerville May 24-28, with a new event added Sunday night to draw more spectators downtown.

Spectators this year will see an additional day of racing beginning with the Bound Brook Criterium on ...

Butterfly Bonanza Flies to Pyramid Mountain June 9

May 26, 2018

MONTVILLE, NJ. On Saturday, June 9, from 12 - 4 p.m., celebrate the beauty and importance of New Jersey’s butterflies and other pollinators at the annual Butterfly Bonanza at Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area in Montville Township.

Butterfly Bonanza is packed with excitement, entertainment, and education for all ages. Enjoy a guided ‘Bug Safari’ tour of ...

Columns

OPEN HOUSES This Weekend 5/26-5/27 2018

The following homes have OPEN HOUSES presented by RE/MAX Neighborhood Properties this weekend.

SATURDAY, MAY 26: 

  From 12 - 2 p.m.

  136 Changebridge, Unit B6, Montville

  Click HERE to see the full listing.

 

SUNDAY, MAY 27:

  From 1 - 4 p.m.

  16 Schneider Lane, Montville

  Click HERE to see the full listing.

 

OPEN HOUSES this weekend 5/19-5/20 2018

The following homes have OPEN HOUSES presented by RE/MAX Neighborhood Properties this weekend.

SATURDAY, MAY 19, 2018:

  From 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.

  44 Union Street, C0008, Montclair

  Click HERE to see Full Listing.

  

SUNDAY, MAY 20, 2018:

  From 1 - 4 p.m.

  9 Condit Road, Mountain Lakes

   Click HERE to see Full ...

SURVIVING A STROKE: Quick Medical Response Gives Mom Her Life Back

Carotid artery dissection. It’s one of the most common causes of stroke in younger adults.

And while you might not associate the word “stroke” with younger patients, the condition – if not treated immediately – could lead to paralysis and even death.

Lindsey Singh can attest to the importance of immediacy. The 31-year-old mother of two from Flanders experienced ...

AtlantiCast

AtlantiCast: Episode 15

On this week’s AtlantiCast, learn some important tips for controlling and avoiding diabetes from an Atlantic Health System expert, see how Atlantic Health is advancing cutting-edge research, hear what’s being done to keep health care environmentally friendly and much more!

 

'Turning Off the Morning News' brings comic twist

‘Turning Off the Morning News’ tackles today’s issues with a comic twist

By Liz Keill

PRINCETON, N J – Despite the late night comics, no one quite captures the insanity of the political/social status world like Christopher Durang.

His latest play, “Turning off the Morning News” hit the ground running.  John Pankow as Jimmy addresses the audience, ...

'To Kill a Mockingbird' Sustains Timeless Appeal

SUMMIT, NJ – The Summit Playhouse provides a stellar production of a much loved classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The Harper Lee novel, later a Gregory Peck film and now a stage production, retains all the warmth, intensity and integrity that made it such an appealing hit in the 1960s. And there will be a new production on Broadway in December with a script by Aaron Sorkin ...

Pet Corner