Updated: Feb 20, 2019

By Christopher Buckley

...that's the number of years I spent learning to dehumanize, hate, and ultimately kill Muslims. I grew up in what seemed like an endless drunken bar fight. My world was flooded with bullying, abuse, poverty, and addiction since my earliest memories. From day one the notions that homosexuality was wrong, you stick with your own color, and feminism was stupid were sometimes literally beaten into me. I needed out. At 17 the United States Army seemed to provide that opportunity, but the price was more than I realized. I enlisted in December of 2000, and I was trained to kill the Muslim enemy. Before I could catch my breath from boot camp I was deployed. That's exactly what I signed up for, right? I saw a fellow soldier die in a fire fight within weeks of my boots touching Afghani soil. That was on the list of things I signed up for too.

What I didn't sign up for was the hate and anger that war brought into my lifeShortly after I returned home, I was injured in an Army vehicle accident and broke my back. Welcome to the world of Opioid painkillers. While laying in bed recovering, I noticed that there were so many problems that made me feel forced to choose a side; Liberal vs. conservative, Democrat vs. Republican, Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter, religion, education… it was overwhelming. My opiate addiction soon spiraled into crystal meth and a long list of bad decisions. Among the poorest of my poor decisions was joining the KKK in 2016 and committing acts of hate and violence towards anyone who wasn't a white Christian nationalist. Perhaps worst of all, I imbued my four year-old son with racist hatred.

As I became a full blown junkie the list grew. My kids watched me crumble into a drug fueled engine of hate. My wife was scared of me, and my friends were all peers in addiction and racism. Not surprisingly, I caught a drug case and became a convicted felon. Finally my wife reached out to Arno Michaelis, and he began the daunting task of healing a broken drug addict that society had given up on.After I got sober with a lot of help, I was able to realize what it was that I was actually fighting. Arno helped me learn valuable things that I never would have learned otherwise. He took me on field trips to Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, and to an imam’s house in Atlanta. He helped me see that what I was actually suffering from was fear: fear of love, fear of purpose, and fear of a relationship with God. I realized that the way to repair myself and my family was through community service programs and giving back to anyone who needed help.

Today I chair two meetings a week for addicts, and I’m driven to heal the racial divide in our society. As Arno saw my progress, he gave me the greatest gift of all: a simple text message that said "homie you gotta meet my guy Heval Kelli", and Heval took over where Arno left off.

Heval is a Kurdish Refugee from Syria, and someone I would have passionately hated two years ago—a Muslim. He is also one of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever met. As a cardiologist, Heval heals hearts, and he has helped heal my heart from the most dangerous disease of all: hate. Heval and I have teamed up to spearhead a response to the hate directed at immigrants and refugees in this country. We work on all sorts of programs and projects to strengthen our bond with each other and the social fabric of our country. Diversity. Humanity. Love and togetherness. Heval has revealed the awesome beauty of these gifts of life, and all I want to do is share them with the world.

Heval has become one of my closest and dearest friends, and I consider him part of my family. I brought my wife and children to an Iftar dinner that Heval organized, and I spoke about my past. Now I strive to be a beacon of hope for humanity, and my relationship with God has grown immensely as I recover from hate. I thank God for Arno and Heval, and can I only imagine what he has in store for us three amigos.The gifts of my wounds were the ability to love and be loved, and finally becoming the person I was meant to be.

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