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Sikh Awareness Month across Wisconsin aims to be catalyst for healing and education

For the first in Wisconsin history, the state issued a proclamation that made April Sikh Awareness & Appreciation Month.

Governor Tony Evers honored the Sikh community of Wisconsin on April 30 by personally delivering the proclamation to members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek.

“The courage, strength and resilience of the Oak Creek Sikh community represents the very best of who we are,” said Governor Evers. “Sikhs are an integral part of the Wisconsin fabric, and it’s an honor to celebrate Vaisakhi and recognize the vital contributions that Sikhs make across our state.”

The Oak Creek Sikh community was selected for making the announcement in honor and remembrance of the six Sikh community members who were killed by a gunman with white supremacist ties on August 5, 2012. The intimate ceremony included Sikh community leaders from across Wisconsin, local elected officials, and some of the survivors and families who lost loved ones on that tragic day. Additionally, Lt. Brian Murphy, the first responding officer who saved lives, was also in attendance.

“The Sikh community is thankful to Wisconsin and Governor Evers for recognizing and celebrating our contributions in this great state,” said Jaspreet Kaur Kaleka, local Oak Creek community leader and daughter-in-law of Satwant Singh Kaleka, one of the victims of the 2012 Oak Creek Sikh temple massacre. “To have this ceremony at our gurdwara where such terrible acts of hate violence once occurred reminds us all that recognizing and celebrating our diversity remains our nation’s greatest strength.”

Sikhism, the fifth-largest religion in the world, is based on the principles of love, justice and equality for all. The Sikh community has been an integral part of the American fabric for nearly 125 years with over 500,000 Sikhs living in the United States.

The Governor’s proclamation had been months in the making, but came at a time when places of worship have increasingly become targets of violence. Just a few days previously, on April 27, a gunman opened fire in a California synagogue where about 100 people were celebrating the last day of Passover, kiIIing one and injuring three others. Last month, 50 people died during attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“No community or faith should ever be the target of bigotry, bias or backlash,” said Wisconsin organizer Masood Akhtar, the founder of We Are Many – United Against Hate. “We stand with our Sikh neighbors in our efforts to combat hate through community engagement, education and interfaith solidarity.”

On April 14, Sikhs nationwide celebrated Vaisakhi, one of the most historically significant days of the year on the Sikh calendar. The date not only marks the beginning of the spring harvest, but it took on special significance for Sikhs as the day the tenth Guru of the Sikh faith formalized the Guru Khalsa Panth, creating a community of initiated Sikhs.

“It’s fantastic to see Wisconsin join the list of states recognizing April as Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month,” said Nikki Singh, Sikh Coalition Advocacy & Policy Manager. “It’s critical that all of our elected officials on both sides of the political aisle celebrate and recognize the diverse communities that make up their constituencies.”

Every year, Sikhs all over the world celebrate Vaisakhi throughout the month of April. In an effort to raise awareness about the Sikh community and Vaisakhi, Sikh leaders across the nation have asked their elected officials to pass proclamations and resolutions in recognition.

“We need to tell people what we’re about, what we do, because at the end of the day we pretty much all believe the same thing,” added Kaleka. “We just want to be good people, we believe that there’s a greater being and just treating everybody basically how we want to be treated — and that goes across all religions.”

The congregation has made it a goal to raise awareness and understanding about their religion. Every year, temple parishioners participate in a 6K run in Oak Creek to remember the shooting victims and raise money for six scholarships, one in the name of each of the people kiIIed.

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