Last Thursday, May 2, was Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance day. On this day, Hotchkiss invited speaker TM Garret, a former Neo-Nazi, member of the KKK, and White Supremacist, who spoke on his experience recovering from hate. Now, he is a humans rights activist who founded the non-profit organization Care, Hope, Awareness, Need, Give and Education (C.H.A.N.G.E ), an organization based in Memphis, Tennessee, directed for community outreach.
Garret started his talk by describing his gradual descent into the world of white national hate groups. When he was younger, he promised his sister to not become a Nazi. However, Garett soon broke this promise espousing German nationalism, and later becoming involved with neo-Nazi and KKK organizations. He then transitioned into his journey of undoing his hate, and becoming a person who inspired love. However his journey was not one without struggles, Garrett made the organizations he was a part of seem like a drug, with their own withdrawal symptoms.
One organizer of the event, Dr. Rachel Myers, director of diversity and inclusion, said, “It takes real effort from the hateful person to combat and change that mindset, just as it took Hitler and the Nazi party a campaign of radicalization and indoctrination to grow the hate that led to the Holocaust. We can’t expect people to change overnight and we cannot accept hateful people who try and say, ‘This is just the way I am,’ because everyone is capable of changing if they want to.”
Students and faculty alike found the talk eye-opening. “It was not what I expected,” said Fatima Bah ’22, “I thought that it was really insightful for how a person can go from such an extreme mindset to such a liberal outlook. He really shows how hate can be [transformed into] love.” The lecture kept the student body engaged with visuals, some graphic in nature, to accompany Garrett’s story.
Following the presentation, a discussion space was provided in which students could gather to process his remarks.. “No one was expected to just ‘be okay’ after the special auditorium; everyone processes things differently,” said Dr. Myers. “It is important to provide different spaces of reflection. Many dorms had good conversations later in the evening on May 2nd, as well.”
Garret left an inspiring message to the students and successfully created conversation on the hate local to any community.