Angela King hated herself. That hatred grew into a disgust for people who did not look like her. A disgust for Blacks, Jews and the LBGTQ community. Ironically, an individual from each community would contribute to her transition from white supremacist to social justice advocate.
King grew up in West Miramar before there was an Interstate 75, malls or theaters. Hatred and intolerance was a way of life for her from early childhood.
“I was raised in a household where I was taught racism and homophobia from as early as I can remember,” King explained. King was taught from home to shun people who were different, but she herself felt like an outcast.
"I struggled with my sexuality. My weight has been an on-going issue my entire life,” she said.
She recalls being verbally and physically bullied. She quietly begged to fit in and be accepted by any group. While attending Cooper City High School, she says she found a group that was willing to accept her.
“I ran into a group of newly recruited racist skinheads,” King said. "Initially, I mistook the disgust people had for them for respect. They would walk down the halls of the school and people would get out of the way. It was really obvious people were afraid of them. They didn't mess with them. And, I enjoyed that feeling."
That’s when a life of disgust for anyone different spiraled out of control. At that time, she said she viewed African-Americans as lazy, Jews as greedy and the LGBTQ community as an abomination.
King even dressed the part, cutting her hair and getting racist-themed tattoos. It wasn’t long before violence became her calling. She became the Skinheads’ enforcer.
"To uphold rules. To dole out punishment if rules were broken,” King recalled. She said she initiated severe beatings. She recalled brutally battering a girl who didn’t follow the rules of the racist group.
“I lured her to this park. I set her up. There were a bunch of racist skinheads there waiting to see it,” King recalled. “I beat her up very badly to the point she had to have plastic surgery to her face. She lost teeth. Those were the things I was willing to do to be accepted and fit in."
That wasn’t the worst of it. One night, she and her fellow skinheads got into a fight at a bar in Dania Beach. They were pumped up on adrenaline and talked about violent far-right views of a race war. Then the group decided to rob a Jewish-owned adult video store.
“I sat in that car and I discussed it and I helped to plan it and I did nothing to stop it,” King explained. A clerk at the store was pistol-whipped during the robbery. King and her crew thought it was justified to take from Jews and send the money to the white supremacist organization.
She was eventually arrested for a hate crime for her role in the robbery. King was sentenced to 70 months in prison. And, her time in prison is where King’s life would begin to ooze with irony. The ugly views of the world she was taught at a young age would change forever behind bars. It happened one day as King chained smoked in the rec area of the prison.
“And, this woman of color, who actually I found out later was Jamaican, she kept looking at me. And, I was thinking, she’s gonna’ jump me. Her and her friends are gonna’ get me. They know who I am,” King recalled.
Instead, the prison inmate asked King, “You know how to play cribbage?”
King, perplexed, accepted that black woman’s offer to teach her the game of cribbage.
“That was in 1998 and we’re still friends to this day,” King said with a smile. King was embraced by the group of Jamaican women. She said this was one of of several catalysts that fed into a larger change.
“I was assaulted by shame,” King said. “When they treated me like a human being, I was able to view myself in that same way again. And that was a huge turning point.” King would then give in to her secretive sexuality while in prison.
“My first girlfriend – she was Jamaican as well. And, she and I still talk today.” She said that relationship was eye-opening.
“She probably more than anyone else taught me how much more we have in common than we have different,” King explained. “We came from such different places and we were involved in such different things. She was heavily involved in gangs but our lives were so similar.”
King said her mother always told her to never bring home a black person or a woman, but at that time she was doing everything her mother villainized.
When she was released from jail, King decided to change the course of her life. She went to college and studied social justice science. She earned a Bachelors and Master’s Degree.
“Going through all that social science really gave me a much broader view of the world and a broader view of society. It helped to start understanding some of the things that led to all of that and then how to break them down,” King said.
At Broward College, she took a Holocaust program two years in a row. She said she was so ashamed of herself. “I couldn’t even look a Holocaust survivor in the eye.” Since then, King has been speaking at the same program for the last 15 years.
In 2011, she and other former violent far-right extremists founded the organization called Life After Hate. They travel across the country teaching others tolerance, social justice and equality.
“We take not only the lessons of our past and our unique experience, but we’ve done a lot with it,” King explained. “We put a lot of self-healing work in. We go out and we use our personal narratives to teach everyday lessons.”
Her focus is on disenfranchised youth. When speaking to young people, she always ask two simple questions.
“How many people have laughed at someone or made fun of someone – repeated a joke because of any number of things -- their weight, their sexual orientation, their color? And, very hesitantly, you’ll see a few hands shoot up,” King said.
Her second question.
“How many people have been on the receiving end for any of that? And, then you'll see every hand go up."
It's a key connection that everyone is vulnerable. And, it's an "in" for King to change minds, beliefs and a way of thinking.
“It develops a common bond with everyone in the room. To know that we’ve all felt that kind of pain,” King said.