Richard “Mac” McKinney, 18, skills coach, motivational speaker, and peace and conflict resolution advocate, is a very different person in 2009.
Once determined to harm people out of a false sense of duty to his homeland, Mr. McKinney has transformed his life into an individual who strives to help people instead.His transformation included earning a bachelor’s degree social enterprise at Ball State University.
In the Oscar-nominated short documentary Stranger at the Gate, he transforms from a confused US Marine Corps veteran trying to blow up the Muncy Mosque to a proud member of the local Muslim community. It focuses on the journey of Mr. McKinney.
McKinney’s story begins in the early 1980s, when he began a nearly 25-year career in the United States Marine Corps, United States Army, and Army Reserves. But three years after he was discharged in 2006, he felt at a loss. He has long held the conviction to serve his country. McKinney, who was injured after being blown out of a building in Iraq, was unsure about his next steps.
“I wanted to die for a purpose. To stand up,” he said. “At the time, I thought my destiny was to die in combat, but that was taken from me. Instead, I retired medically. No. I was supposed to go home in a coffin with a flag on it, because you’re back in a coffin with a flag on, and you’re a hero forever.
Mr. McKinney did not know what his new purpose was.
Civilian life was not a source of peace when he left the military. A deep anger against Muslims was brewing in him. Walking into the store, he was upset when he saw a woman wearing a hijab (some Muslim women cover her head in public). The thought of Muslim children sitting next to his daughter at school infuriated him. He viewed Muslims as enemies.
Mr. McKinney eventually turned his anger and anger on a one-man conspiracy to detonate explosives at Muncy’s Islamic Center.
When anger is met with kindness
McKinney visited the Islamic Center in Muncy one afternoon in 2009 to confirm the goals of his plan. But what he encountered on that visit was far from what he expected.
He was warmly received by the people inside. Mosque co-founder Dr. Saber Bahrami welcomed Mr. McKinney with a hug despite his anguish. Mr. McKinney was surprised by such a warm welcome. He asked for a copy of the Quran to learn what he could do about Islam. He went home confused but eager to learn. He believed that the Qur’an must contain the necessary legitimacy to proceed with this plan.
But instead of hatred, he found in the pages kindness, words of peace, and a lesson in forgiveness. and most of the members of the Islamic Center in Muncy. He was invited to a dinner at Bahrami’s house and was welcomed in an unexpected way. In just eight weeks, he not only abandoned his plan to demolish the mosque, but also decided to convert to Islam. Mr. McKinney felt accepted by this faith and the people he met at the Islamic Center in Muncie.
“I’m still confused about the time frame,” McKinney said. “Eight weeks, eight weeks, eight weeks. How long it took from blowing these people up to calling them brothers and sisters. And I came to believe that was God’s plan: to be this new man, I had to be this ugly one first.
Armed with his ball-state education to change the story of his life
Like many adult learners, Mac McKinney’s road to Ball State wasn’t straight.Ultimately, however, he felt he needed a degree to be in a position to help people in the way he was now forced to. social work program and pursued Minor in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution.
With a new passion and purpose, he devoted himself to becoming a full-time student. He was an enthusiastic, curious and nontraditional student who brought a unique perspective to the class. One of McKinney’s first classes was an introduction to peace studies. Mr Gerald Waite, retired professor of Anthropology and current Research Fellow Center for Peace and Conflict Studies.
“Mac and I are veterans so we got along really well, and it really changed our focus,” said Waite. “For me, it’s easy to understand where he came from.”
Mr. Waite and Mr. McKinney have spoken about their wartime experiences and jointly published a paper in 2016. Benjamin V. Cohen Peace Conference Called “The Six Wars and the Awakening: From Warriors to Peace Workers.” The piece told of Mr. McKinney’s five wars and Mr. Waite’s one war. The meaning of ex-soldiers working for peace. Mr. McKinney also did his three-semester internship at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, attending Advisory Board meetings and assisting in conference preparation and event planning within the community. His experience has led him to be invited to many social work and anthropology classes.
“Mac is a great motivational speaker,” Waite said. “He has the energy to match and is good at what he does. I was asked to speak.”
“I chose social work because I thought it would open up the most doors of opportunity for me, given what I wanted to do,” McKinney said. “I want to help people, and I don’t think I could have done that without this degree and my experience at Ball State University.”
“I want to change the story of hate”
People make big changes in their lives. But not all those people and their transformational journeys are explored in the short film. Especially those that were nominated for an Oscar.
McKinney now works as a skills coach and conflict resolution advocate. He uses a variety of behavioral therapies to help people with their coping skills. And because he is such a powerful speaker, he has secured many speaking engagements to share his message of peace.
“I want to change the narrative of hate, not just about religion, but about race, gender, everything,” McKinney said. “I want to change the world.”
95th The Oscars ceremony will be held on March 12th and will be televised on ABC. Watch ‘Stranger at the Gate’ in full here.