It’s easy to conclude a person is hopeless to change. We often assume that people who aren’t like us would never listen to us. The story of Derek Black shows us that’s not true. If Derek could change, anyone can. And the steps that led to his transformation give us hints as to how we can be help effect change in our culture today.
Derek Black was white supremacist royalty. His father, Don Black, is a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and member of the American Nazi Party. He developed and runs Stormfront, the first and largest white national web-site. His mother had been married to David Duke, another former Grand Wizard of the KKK and founder of the National Association for the Advancement of White People. He became Derek’s godfather and was a mentor to him throughout his early life. At the end of third grade, his parents became concerned about the ethnic diversity in his school and they decided to homeschool him. This allowed them to make white nationalism a focus of his education and it gave time for Derek to travel with his father as he spoke at nationalist conferences in the South.
The young boy soaked it all up. When he was a teenager, he designed the Stormfront site for children to promote white nationalist values among young people and was interviewed about hate speech by Nickelodeon, HBO and USA Today. Later, he went on to host a daily radio show, promoting his white supremacist beliefs. Derek was at the forefront of a dangerous movement and some had begun calling him “the heir.” When he went off to university, he continued his radio program but with other students he largely kept his beliefs about race and immigration to himself. Eventually however, a classmate’s Google search on Derek’s name revealed who he was and how extreme his views were. Overnight, The small liberal arts college erupted in fury.
Eli Saslow’s Washington Post article details what happened next:
“Ostracizing Derek won’t accomplish anything,” one student wrote.
“We have a chance to be real activists and actually affect one of the leaders of white supremacy in America. This is not an exaggeration. It would be a victory for civil rights.”
“Who’s clever enough to think of something we can do to change this guy’s mind?”
One of Derek’s acquaintances from that first semester decided he might have an idea. He started reading Stormfront and listening to Derek’s radio show. Then, in late September, he sent Derek a text message.
“What are you doing Friday night?” he wrote.
Matthew Stevenson was an Orthodox Jew who had begun hosting informal Shabbat dinners in his apartment every Friday night. He said traditional prayers and drank from a Kiddush cup but invited people of many different ethnic and religious backgrounds to attend. Surprisingly, Derek said, “Yes.”
Eli writes, “Matthew decided his best chance to affect Derek’s thinking was not to ignore him or confront him, but simply to include him.” The first night, no one mentioned his white supremacist beliefs. But Derek kept coming back, week after week, and was moved by the acceptance and kindness. As trust developed, they began to challenge his assumptions and respond to some of his views. And by the end of his time at university, Derek ended up publicly disavowing his racist views and breaking with the movement and the hatred his family had indoctrinated him in.
Derek’s story isn’t a conversion to faith in Christianity. But it does show the incredible power of reaching out, including others in your friendships, and humbly sharing your beliefs. He reminds us not to assume people are unreachable and points to the place of food and prayer in reaching those who are hard to reach. And ultimately he points to the example of Jesus who ate with tax collectors and sinners and as a result led many of them to faith.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. - Matthew 9:10
Who are you eating with? Who are you inviting into your life? Who are you impacting with the gospel? May God direct all of us to reach others with the love of Jesus Christ.
In awe of Him,