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Building Bridges With The Sikh Community

The Sikh Temple shootings in Oak Creek in August weighed heavy on Christie Kern's mind, so much so that she decided to partner with members of the temple to hold a community event for people to learn about the Sikh culture.

When the shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek happened in August, the tragedy weighed heavy on Christie Kern's mind.

The Mount Pleasant resident and owner of Racine Community Acupuncture lived in Trinidad in 1990, when a coup claimed the lives on 50 people. Like everyone in the United States, she was horrified by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But the Sikh Temple shooting felt closer and more personal, like the attack was in her neighborhood.

Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Paramjit Kaur and Suveg Singh were shot to death by white supremacist Wade Michael Page at the Sikh Temple, 7512 S. Howell Ave, on August 5. Three others were injured, including an Oak Creek police officer.

Like many people, when these tragedies happened Kern grappled with understanding how people could come to hate others so much. She felt powerless to do anything to help.

But that has changed. 

Kern and a client of hers, Christine Donalies, with the help of Peace Learning Circles are sponsoring One Community, One World: Understanding the Sikh Community.

“I was tired of people taking their anger out on someone else,” Kern said.

Valarie Kaur and Sharat Raju, two filmmakers and civil rights advocates, will present and narrate three short films; and Dr. Kulwant Dhaliwal, an Oak Creek Sikh gurdwara leader, will share testimony from victims’ families. They’ll also have music performed by and art produced by members of the Sikh community.

Donalies said the event is not primarily focused on the tragedy, but will be a celebration of the Sikh religion.

“We’re saying, yes this is what happened with the stereotype, but we’re trying to re-create the story. We’re trying to create new bridges,” she said.

After learning about the shootings at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Kern read an editorial by Valerie Kaur, who founded Groundswell.

Kraur wrote:

I believe it would not have mattered much to Wade Michael Page if he knew that the people he killed were Sikh rather than Muslim. From what we have gathered so far, Page is just like others who have targeted Sikhs in hate violence: they see people with dark skin, beards, and turbans as the enemy.

After reading the editorial, Kern realized how much she didn’t know about the Sikh community.

So she mentioned to Donalies that she wanted to start a blog.

“She said she already had the first line of the blog written, ‘There was a mass murder in my neighborhood again,’” Donalies said.

She also told Donalies she wanted to sponsor a series of cultural events, and represent one culture at a time to educate people. She felt there was a need to build more understanding in the community, but this had a broader meaning for Kern.

She was impressed with groups like Kaur’s group Groundswell, which helps build community understanding between people of different faiths and lifestyles, and Peace Learning Circles, which focuses on everything from promoting peace within schools struggling with bullying among their students to doing outreach programs in senior living facilities.

“We’d like to do a cultural education series and we’re hoping to do this twice a year,” Donalies said.

The event will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12 at South Shore Cinema, 7261 South 13th Street, in Oak Creek and from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13 at the Golden Rondelle Theater, 1525 Howe Street in Racine.

“Some people are shy,” Kern said. “This will be a safe place for everyone to come together and learn about the Sikh culture.”

Marissa Shulak December 02, 2012 at 02:52 AM
Another area event: Dec 6, 11:30 am, Milwaukee Interfaith Conference's Annual Luncheon and Awards as the Sikh community is honored for its exemplary response to the temple shootings in Oak Creek by a neo-Nazi. Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen will speak about the rise of domestic extremism and their work tracking racist extremists. Info: 414-276-9050 - fee $40 at Italian Community Center, 631 East Chicago Street, Milwaukee. (info via M. Shulak - 262-886-6822)

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