Johnny Lee Clary was once the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), but now he's serving as a minister and hoping his story can convince others not to hate.
In his 22 years of speaking around the world, Clary said he's seen hatred in every country he's visited. But religion is what helped him change.
Clary will share his story at First Baptist Church Williams May 18 at 7 p.m. and May 19 at 10:30 a.m. He will speak to youth at Williams High School about hate and bullying May 19 at 6 p.m.
First Baptist Pastor Andy McDaniel said Clary will speak about his journey from hate to redemption.
"What my hope is that people will take away is that no matter where you are or what you've done, that there's still hope," McDaniel said.
Clary grew up in the 1960s in the segregated area of Del City, Okla.
"Hatred and racism, you're not born with it, it is a learned response," Clary said. "You are taught to hate."
After the death of his father when Clary was 11, his mother sent him to east Los Angeles to live with his sister. Other kids and gang members bullied Clary, and his sister's drug dealing boyfriend was abusive.
"I basically was a kid that was without anybody, and I felt rejection," Clary said. "I had nobody to care for me and I was basically having to survive on the street."
After seeing the KKK on television, Clary wrote to the group. A member visited Clary and told him that Ku Klux Klan meant circle of family. Clary joined at age 14.
Clary was involved with the KKK from 1974-1989, during which he became the national leader of the group. During that time, Clary said he became dissatisfied with his life. The KKK started interfering with his education and professional wrestling career. After several personal issues that brought Clary to the point of suicide, he started watching pastor Jimmy Swaggart on television and praying.
Soon after, Clary received a job offer and "became a new person." Clary was considering legally changing his name so people would not know who he was when he saw a talk show featuring young people in hate groups.
"I was shaking my head and I thought, 'you know, that's how old I was when I got involved in that mess,'" he said.
Clary thought someone needed to talk to them so they would not make the same mistakes he did, and then realized that he should be that person.
When he's not traveling as a speaker, Clary lives in Baton Rouge, La. where he works with Jimmy Swaggart Ministries.
"I learned years ago I can't do anything about the mistakes I did in the past, but I also learned many years ago although I can't change the past, I can do something about today in order to build a better future for tomorrow."
More information about Clary is available at www.preachthecross.net or www.planettakers.com.