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Governor Tony Evers brings proclamation of love and support to Sikh Americans in Oak Creek

On Saturday, April 27 another faith community was again targeted by yet a hate-attack inside their place of prayer. One dead and three others injured. The Congregation Chabad Synagogue in Poway, California was left mourning the senseless violence committed by the hands and of an openly anti-Semitic 19 year-old armed with an AR-15.

The “Thoughts and prayers” pouring in worldwide for our Jewish brothers and sisters has become routine in the American ritual of mourning lives lost because of the spread of mass violence. The sad irony is that these terrible acts are being committed in places of prayer.

Currently, it feels as if our collective consciousness is continuously in a state of heightened alert, awaiting the next needed outpouring of support for the next community infected by this disease of mass-murder. It is a collective nervousness that anticipates the next isolated and suffering white male who finds it easier to deflect his own failures and shame on others, rather than understand his own role in creating the cultish toxicity that he actively immerses himself in.

Meanwhile, our local Sikh community was prepping to have the State of Wisconsin and Governor Tony Evers recognize April as Sikh Awareness Month for the first time in Wisconsin history. April is the most sacred month for Sikhs worldwide, because of the significance of celebrating the religious holiday of Vaisakhi and the founding of the Khalsa Panth by Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

About 7 years ago, our community suffered its own hate-crime, as an affiliated White Supremacist attacked the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, kiIIing 6 and injuring 4 others. When we were attacked 7 years ago at our most vulnerable moment at prayer, our small immigrant community knew that we had a responsibility. Our responsibility was to heal.

Some say that we heal from the outside-in and some others may say that we need to heal from the inside-out. I believe that community healing actually has many layers and reciprocal relationships that bind each of the parties in an agreement to commit itself to the understanding of the role that we all play in the process of harm, hurt, and healing. The commitment to creating healthy communities cannot stop at understanding, for action and the recommitment to action must continuously be engaged in.

On April 30, 2019, our small community was able to come full circle to reclaim our place of worship, as Wisconsin joined a growing list of states that has officially declared April as Sikh Awareness month. With a collective effort launched by The Sikh Coalition, a national advocacy organization founded after 9/11 to address hate attacks against Sikh Americans, and locally based We Are Many – United Against Hate founded by Masood Akhtar, the Governor’s office officially recognized the contributions that Sikh Americans have had on the betterment of our state and nation, now and going forward.

This language of the Proclamation reads:

April is Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month

WHEREAS: Sikhs have been living in the United States for more than 130 years, and during the early 20th century, thousands of Sikh Americans worked on farms, in lumber mills and mines, and on the Oregon, Pacific & Eastern Railroad; and

WHEREAS: Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world and today, there are more than 30 million Sikhs worldwide and an estimated 500,000 Sikh Americans; and

WHEREAS: Vaisakhi is one of the most historically significant days of the year for Sikhs and is celebrated on April 14, 2019; and

WHEREAS, 2019 is the 550th birthday of the first of ten gurus and founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak. This day is celebrated for Sikhs in Wisconsin and worldwide as Guru Nanak’s Gurpurab and is one of the most important dates in the Sikh calendar; and

WHEREAS, Sikh Americans pursue diverse professions, and make rich contributions to the social, cultural, and economic vibrancy of the United States, including service as members of the United States Armed Forces and significant contributions to our great nation in agriculture, information technology, small businesses, the hotel industry, trucking, medicine, and technology; and

WHEREAS, Sikh Americans distinguished themselves by fostering respect among all people through faith and service; and

WHEREAS, the State of Wisconsin is committed to educating citizens about the world’s religions,the value of religious diversity, tolerance grounded in First Amendment principles, a culture of mutual understanding, and the diminution of violence; and

WHEREAS: Today, the State of Wisconsin seeks to further the diversity of its community and afford all residents the opportunity to better understand, recognize, and appreciate the rich history and shared experiences of Sikh Americans.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Tony Evers, Governor of the State of Wisconsin do hereby proclaim the month of April 2019 as SIKH AWARENESS and APPRECIATION MONTH.

In attendance to receive the Proclamation were representatives from each of the four Gurudwaras in Wisconsin, policy makers, activists, families of those that lost their lives, and community members who have supported the commitment of healing.

From today and going forward, we continue to understand our own responsibility to heal. While we know that Proclamations can never take the place of precious lives, we also know that we must be committed to healing the wounds of the past. If we want a more loving and compassionate world, the traits of forgiveness and kindness can not symbolize weakness, they must instead symbolize the reclaiming of power.

A vengeance against the harm, hurt, and the threats. Terrorists attempt to destroy our faith in one another. They attempt to divide, and this is why people and places of faith are being targeted so frequently.

The Governor’s Proclamation will be the catalyst to develop educational programming in our state and nationwide about who Sikhs are. Furthermore, we hope that we can help inspire a thirst to learn about the world’s people and the beauty that diversity inspires.

We hope that other faiths and the world communities are able to reclaim the beautiful divinity that exists in each one of us. The word “Sikh” simply means learner.

We are all Sikhs.

About The Author

Pardeep Kaleka

As a former Milwaukee Police Officer and co-founder of Serve2Unite.org, Pardeep is author of "The Gifts of Our Wounds," and a Licensed Therapist specializing in utilizing a trauma-informed approach to treat survivors of violence. He is also the Editor and a featured Columnist for Milwaukee Independent.

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