By Akbar Ahmed
OAK CREEK: Saturday’s sunshine, warm weather and blue skies reminded many in the Sikh community of the morning just under a year ago when they lost six of their own in an assault on their temple by a white supremacist.
But amidst the somber run-up to the Aug. 5 anniversary of the attack, Sikhs and their allies came together Saturday morning at Oak Creek High School. Events included a charity run to benefit a community scholarship fund, speeches about the victims and a sprawling picnic.
Sikh Temple of Wisconsin volunteers named the event after a Sikh principle that has been especially important in the year since the attack: Chardhi Kala, or perpetual optimism even amidst tragedy.
“It means everybody should rise up,” temple member Preet Kaur said as she chatted with friends in bright traditional clothing on the grass.
Organizers said about 1,100 people registered for the Chardhi Kala 6K run. They added that they plan to disclose the amount raised in donations later this week.
Temple member Jaspeet Kaur Singh, one of the organizers, said the event was designed to thank the community for its courage in the aftermath of the shooting and to give back “instead of us going to church and mourning and crying.”
Before the run began, runners, walkers and observers filed into bleachers surrounding the school’s football field to hear from a range of speakers that included victims’ families, Sikh community leaders and supporters from across the country.
Raghuvinder Singh’s father, internationally recognized Sikh priest Punjab Singh, was shot in the attack and remains paralyzed in a Racine County rehab center.
“He is still in the hospital, and with God’s grace and all of your prayers, he is getting well,” Singh said. “I need more prayers.”
Amardeep and Pardeep Kaleka, sons of slain temple president Satwant Kaleka, said the run participants were helping the Kaleka family and each other with what Pardeep called “the gift of presence.”
Retired Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy, who was shot 12 times during the attack, called Saturday’s resemblance to the morning of Aug. 5 “somewhat uncanny.”
“Someone might look at that and say it’s eerie,” Murphy told the crowd. “To me, it just shows a representation of the families coming together to bring sunlight and optimism to those left behind … the name of the run, Chardhi Kala, is relentless optimism, and I think what the community of Oak Creek has shown from 10:20 on Aug. 5, 2012, until now and definitely into the future is relentless optimism and the ability to work together for the common good.”
Sikh leaders who traveled to Oak Creek for the weekend included Maj. Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, the first Sikh granted a special U.S. Army dress code exception for his beard and turban. He called the Oak Creek Sikh community soldiers on the frontlines of a battle against racial hatred.
“To the hate groups that hide in the dark recesses of our country, I want to show you that we are not afraid,” said Kalsi, who was raised by Indian-American parents in New Jersey. “This is my home and my turban is an integral part of the fabric of this great nation.”
One out-of-towner told the audience he felt a level of understanding among the Oak Creek community that he had experienced in few other places. Robbie Parker, who lost his young daughter in the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn., said in a voice choked with emotion that he hoped the attack would not come to define the local community but would instead help residents become more compassionate toward each other and the world.
Organizers included an improvised altar with portraits and biographies of temple shooting victims, and placed flowers underneath. Organizers placed photographs of the children killed in the Newtown shooting around the altar as well, along with signs that said “We Stand with Newtown” and “We Stand with Aurora.”
Megan Ferger of Oak Creek said she started sobbing as she ran past the portraits.
Ferger did the run with her young son, Ethan. She said it was his first serious run — and he beat her.
“I’m so glad people are learning to be peaceful and get along,” Ferger said. “It’s just sad it takes something like this.” (Courtesy Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Click HERE for pictures of the Chardhi Kala 6K run in Oak Creek.