|When Aaron Daniels returned from Promise Keepers' Birmingham, Ala.,
conference in May, he hugged and kissed his wife and children and announced that he was
going to make some changes.
He burned his Ku Klux Klan robe.
He vowed to abolish the use of racist language in their home.
He prayed that God would change his life and the lives of his family members.
"My wife and children looked at me like I was crazy," Daniels, a 34-year-old cable television lineman from Silverhill, Ala., said of his homecoming. Now, months later, they know he was serious.
Daniels credits his behavior to a spiritually inspired message from Dr. Raleigh Washington, PK's 58-year-old vice president of reconciliation, who challenged men at Birmingham's Legion Field to reach out to Christian brothers of other races.
Daniels not only severed the ties with his racist past, he befriended a black co-worker whom he hopes will eventually become his accountability partner.
Washington says Daniels' transformation is dramatic proof that God can help men overcome their prejudice and fear to reconcile with men of color.
"If a man who was a former high-ranking member of the Klan can come to the stadium, give his life to Christ, hear a message about racial reconciliation and respond immediately by finding a black brother to be his friend, that shows the power of the almighty God to radically change men's lives," Washington said.
Daniels was born in Charleston, S.C., in 1963, the son of a Navy petty officer. His mother was a homemaker. Daniels, the youngest of five children, said his parents were Christians who weren't racist.
He grew up on a Navy base in Rota, Spain. During ninth grade, his father transferred to Great Lakes Naval Training Station near Chicago where his parents enrolled him in a predominantly black high school. It was his first exposure to blacks. They mistreated him, and eventually, he grew to hate them.
By then, Daniels was doing drugs, hanging out with dopers, cutting classes and flunking. He dropped out his senior year and headed for Albuquerque, N.M., to live with his sister, whose husband also was stationed at an Air Force base.
Over the next few months, he started turning his life around. He kicked drugs, got his GED, went back to Chicago and began working as a cable television installer.
He married an enlisted woman in 1988 and moved to Alabama, but they divorced within two years.
In 1991, an acquaintance introduced him to the Klan. This gave him an outlet for his growing hatred.
Although Daniels had grown up in a Christian household, he never read the Bible and was oblivious to Jesus' teaching about the second greatest commandment -- loving your neighbor.
In 1993, the Klan promoted Daniels to Klaliff -- second-in-command -- in Baldwin and Mobile counties.
The next year was a big one for Daniels.
The Klan promoted him to Grand Dragon. But he was forced to quit when a co-worker spotted him on the evening news at a Klan rally and informed his bosses who forced him to choose between his job or the Klan.
He also married Lydia Burnett, a co-worker at the cable company. About that time, his father, Dan, a retired master chief petty officer, began telling him about PK.
Dan Daniels, now 60, had become a PK enthusiast, traveling across the country to attend conferences.
Then, Daniels sent his son two issues of New Man magazine, a men's Christian magazine. Aaron was outraged. One featured an unflattering article about the Klan; the other had a cover story about interracial marriage.
"Both magazines found my trash can within seconds after their arrival," Daniels said. "My thoughts of this Promise Keepers organization were not too promising."
When Daniels' father invited him to the Birmingham conference, Daniels agreed to go.
"Privately, I thought of the Promise Keepers (conference) as a chance to reunite with my daddy for a weekend, and I figured if I had to put up with being at some religious rally, well, I would," he said in a letter he wrote to Washington after the conference.
"God had something else in mind for me that weekend," Daniels continued. "God had in mind for me to be saved. God had in mind for me to set aside prejudice and for once -- look around at 30,000-plus men of all 'make and model' and see them as his children and my brothers."
Near the end of the second rain-soaked day, Daniels was moved as Washington shared the parable of the Good Samaritan -- a member of an ethnic group despised by Jews, who stopped on the road to care for a half-dead robbery victim after the man was ignored by his fellow Jews, including a priest.
The message struck a chord deep in Daniels' spirit.
He jumped to his feet at the challenge to reach out to men of other races.
"Every word hit me like a ton of bricks," he told Washington in the letter, adding that a man of color beside him became "the victim of one of my hugs."
For the first time, he questioned his racism.
"Who do I apologize to," I thought, "for walking the streets a few years ago, chanting racist lingo and getting others involved in racism? To God, I reckon. My daddy and I were bawling our eyes out, praying and hugging."
Daniels was so impacted by the message that he sent Washington a letter telling him how God had changed his life. Washington wept when he read it. So did his wife and members of his congregation at Rock Church in Chicago. The same thing happened to others when Washington shared Daniels' testimony at PK's St. Louis conference in mid-July. The applause was so thunderous, it forced Washington to end his message.
Since the Birmingham conference, Daniels has started a new life in Christ. He is attending church, is a more committed husband and father and is following through on the challenge of reconciliation.
"I did what you said," Daniels wrote. "I found a man of color. He is now my friend. I will introduce him to Promise Keepers."
David Ashenfelter is a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper reporter in Detroit and active as a promise keeper.
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