Michael Kent decided to remove his swastika tattoos in 2017 after an encounter with his Black female probation officer. He moved from hating Black people to being welcomed by the Luther King Jr family.
Kent was part of a neo-Nazi group. After being incarcerated for a crime, he decided to get the swastika tattoos across his body while in prison. He has had them for over 20 years and it was his Black female probation officer, Tiffany Whittier, who helped him see people past skin color; she helped him see past the hate and see people for who they are. The compassion of his officer helped him turn over a new leaf.
Kent recently indicated that the relationship he has built with Tiffany over the years has moved from the probation officer—former inmate relationship to that of family. He said Whittier “gave him the strength” to remove his tattoos and be more accepting of people from different backgrounds.
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Looking back at the Kent she knew before and the one that she had come to know, Whittier said, “You would never have guessed that Michael changed, that his tattoos would come off, not in a million years that he will change his life for the better.”
“He went from hate to being able to accept people for who they are,” she added.
Kent’s chest which, was covered in swastika tattoos, is now covered with the image of a big wolf. He also decided to cover his neck and back, which had white pride tattoos, with the tree of life tattoos “for a new life,” he said.
According to ABC7, after Kent and Whittier’s story went viral on Facebook at the time with over 55 million views, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter, Dr. Bernice King Jr, invited them to speak on MLK Day in January 2019.
Upon meeting Bernice, many wondered how looking at her father and family history, she could invite someone like Kent on a day that her father was being honored and even decided to see him face to face.
Her answer was, “I grew up in a family where we were taught about unconditional love and forgiveness and to sit here today to me is like full circle with the fruits of my parents’ labor. That people are able to cross these barriers that once existed is unbelievable, because this never could have happened in my dad’s time at all.”
Upon reflecting on how his life was before his encounter with Whittier and now with Bernice, Kent was moved to tears and said, “I don’t know why I was like that, I judged for a couple people’s actions, I judged a whole culture and cultures for a couple of people’s actions.”
Whittier chipped in, saying that people have so much to give if only they receive the right kind of help. That is the reason she does what she does as a person and a parole officer. “I love to help people,” she said.
Identifying with Kent’s ordeal, Bernice said she once had “a strong hatred for White men” in her mid-20s but she also had an experience with a White TV host that changed her perspective. It is that encounter that she built on that gives her the courage to call Kent, “her brother”.