Six months ago, on August 5, 2012, a gunman attacked the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six sangat members and injuring several others. It was one of the worst hate crimes in recent American history.
All of us were affected by the tragedy that took place in Oak Creek. The outpouring of support to the local Oak Creek sangat from the Panth worldwide was in the true spirit of Sikhi. Today, as we reflect on the tragedy, we must continue to work together, with the spirit of Chardi Kala, to build a brighter future.
To this end, over the last six months, the Sikh Coalition has continued our engagement with both the local sangat and greater community. Several weeks ago, the Sikh Coalition was invited to conduct Sikh awareness presentations for various government agencies and school districts in the Milwaukee area. These presentations focused on basic Sikh beliefs and Sikh American immigrant history, while also dispelling misconceptions about Sikhs. Led by the Coalition's Education Director and several local sangat members, each presentation ended with a question and answer session and a turban tying demonstration.
Oak Creek Police Department – On December 10, 2012, the Sikh Coalition’s Education Director met with the training unit for the Oak Creek Police Department to conduct a Sikh awareness presentation and provide tips for law enforcement on how to interact with members of the Sikh community who wear a turban or carry a kirpan. The Coalition also provided the training unit officers with educational materials that they can use when training the rest of the police force.
Oak Creek Mayor and City Hall Staff – The Mayor of Oak Creek, Stephen Scaffidi, extended a special invitation to the Coalition to present information about Sikhs to his staff at City Hall. On December 10, 2012, the Sikh Coalition’s Education Director led a presentation on basic Sikh beliefs and practices. Staff had an opportunity to ask questions about what they had seen or their interactions with the Sikh community. Coverage of this presentation can be found here, as reported by the Oak Creek Patch.
Elmbrook Independent School District’s (ISD) Leadership Team – On December 12, 2012, the Sikh Coalition’s Education Director led an educator’s session on Sikh Awareness for the Leadership Team at Elmbrook Schools. The Leadership Team, a team of nearly 100 educators, consists of every principal, assistant principal, school psychologist, social worker, and high school and middle school social studies teacher in the district. After the presentation, all of the English Language Learner (ELL) teachers and several other educators had a one-on-one meeting with the Coalition’s Education Director as well as local Sikhs to ask specific questions about their Sikh students and how best to communicate with them and their families on personal issues related to their Sikh identity.
Oak Creek Independent School District’s Administors and Educators - On December 13, 2012, almost 150 educators were given a presentation on who Sikhs are and how best to interact with Sikhs in the classroom. The Superintendent for Oak Creek ISD, Dr. Sara Burmeister, invited all principals, guidance counselors, social workers, and every social studies elementary, middle, and high school teacher to a presentation led by the Sikh Coalition’s Education Director.
Training Session for Sikh Volunteers – On December 15, 2012, the Sikh Coalition’s Education Director hosted a six-hour training session for several Milwaukee Sikh residents on how to lead these same presentations for their local schools and government agencies. In this way, the Coalition is empowering the local community and providing them with professional materials to educate their neighbors about the Sikh American community.
In addition, the Sikh Coalition delivered announcements at both the Brookfield and Oak Creek gurdwaras on December 16, 2012, to inform the sangat about the week’s engagements and recognize the newly trained volunteers who are available to deliver Sikh awareness presentations in the community.
The Sikh Coalition would like to thank Mayor Stephen Scaffidi, Captain Steve Anderson, Lt. Joel H. Bateman, Asst. Superintendent of Elmbrook Schools Dana Monogue, and Superintendent of Oak Creek School District, Dr. Sara Burmeister for arranging these presentations.
These events could not have been possible without the assistance of the following individuals: Ranjit Singh, Dr. Mohan Singh Dhariwal, Sukhjinder Kaur, and Jaspreet Singh. The Coalition would like to sincerely thank these dedicated community members for not only arranging the presentations with local educators but for making themselves available to attend all the presentations and help answer questions.
As always, the Sikh Coalition urges Sikhs to practice their faith fearlessly.