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Service is next chapter for residents two years after Sikh Temple shooting

Service at heart of next 'chapter' for Oak Creek residents two years after Sikh Temple shooting

Patrice O’Neill, executive producer with Not In My Town, introduces the film “Waking in Oak Creek” to a packed house in the Oak Creek Community Center on March 13. The documentary explores the 2012 shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and how the community responded afterward.

Patrice O’Neill, executive producer with Not In My Town, introduces the film “Waking in Oak Creek” to a packed house in the Oak Creek Community Center on March 13. The documentary explores the 2012 shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and how the community responded afterward. Photo By C.T. Kruger

March 19, 2014

Oak Creek — In a photograph on his son's Facebook page, former Sikh Temple of Wisconsin President and Founder Satwant Singh Kaleka is sitting in front of a self-serve gas station pump wearing a Green Bay Packers hat.

All that's visible behind him is the word "serve."

Kaleka's son, Pardeep, believes "serve" is the message his father would leave the Oak Creek community two years after Wade Michael Page opened fire at the Sikh Temple, killing Satwant Kaleka and five other temple members Aug. 5, 2012.

Pardeep Kaleka sat on a panel with Police Chief John Edwards and Mayor Steve Scaffidi on March 13 after a premiere screening of "Waking in Oak Creek," a PBS documentary that seeks to generate discussion about how city's affected by hate crimes can move forward from the tragedy and become inclusive. Not In Our Town, a program of PBS that was launched in 1995, produced "Waking in Oak Creek." Not in Our Town has told more than 100 stories of communities affected by hate crimes. The documentaries are available online and at public screenings.

"A bad thing happened here, but we said we're not going to let a bad thing be the story of Oak Creek," Scaffidi said. "We're going to do something positive with that story."

Personal tales told

Nearly 400 people attended the screening at the Oak Creek Community Center, including the Kaleka family, relatives of other deceased temple members and some elected officials, including state Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee). Denise Callaway, business and community partnership coordinator for Milwaukee Public Schools, mediated the event.

"This film is just one part of the discussion, one part of the evening tonight," said Patrice O'Neill, executive producer of "Waking in Oak Creek." At 30 minutes long, the film is modest, O'Neill said. It moves at a fast pace and is intended to focus on how the community came together after the shooting, rather than on the attack itself.

Event organizers provided small groups with discussion questions: How have you noticed the community change after the shooting? How can Oak Creek become more inclusive? What events or ideas do you have to facilitate that togetherness?

Satpal Kaleka, who now stands as vice president of the temple since her husband's death, said she has felt more comfortable to wear her suit — religious clothing — in public.Her daughter-in-law, Jaspreet Kaleka, said she has become more aware of interfaith dinners and organized events in Oak Creek.

Pam Kaleka added: "Now people know Sikh. They know who we are: We are the peacemakers."

People in the crowd shared how random acts of kindness can create a culture of inclusiveness. Kamal Saini, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, shared how the day after the shooting, he met a man from Philadelphia who flew to Milwaukee with a one-way ticket to help out in any way possible. That man stayed for 14 days, Saini said. "Good deeds count, and these are the things that stay with us the rest of our lives," Saini said.

Saini and his brother, Harpreet, were seen in the movie speaking before Congress on behalf of hate crimes against Sikhs and their mother, Paramjit Kaur, who was killed in the temple. The Saini brothers were the first Sikhs in U.S. history to testify before Congress, the documentary asserts. The two are still working with their church to help Sikhs get into universities.

Harpreet is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and said students freely ask him now, "What are you?" They also ask about the turban he wears.

"I want people to ask me who I am and not be afraid," Saini said.

Starting with youth

A spokesman from MORE Robotics said change has to start with the youth. MORE Robotics is a community robotics club made up of students from 10 high schools. They are helping the Fire Department assemble trauma kits to put in Oak Creek schools and will soon be trained on how to administer them to students.

To build nonviolent school climates, Pardeep and his brother, Amardeep Kaleka, partnered with Arno Michaelis, a former white supremacist, and Rahul Dubey to speak to students through Serve 2 Unite, a program of Arts @ Large. Serve 2 Unite is in 15 Milwaukee Public Schools.

"Just start younger. Three- and 4-year-olds don't know hate," said Amardeep Kaleka, who plans to challenge U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) for Congress.

"All of you have great ideas, but these (elected officials) serve you and will implement them. That's the hardest thing, implementing," Kaleka said.

Edwards said that after the shooting his department was "thrust into the limelight for how we handled it that day — and it was handled perfectly."

"It changed the way things are being done across the nation," Edwards said. The Police Department is now working with the Fire Department to create a Rescue Task Force, a system in which police and fire departments respond to emergencies together, whereas before it was just police.

Never giving up

Scaffidi said he receives letters all the time asking him why the community has to keep talking about the temple shooting.

"We're going to continue to talk about this; we're going to do what we can. I expect my community to participate in any event that brings people together," Scaffidi said.

Pardeep Kaleka assured audience members that the Sikh community will organize a two-year memorial service and another 6-kilometer run and walk in honor of the six people who died in the temple shooting.

"We plan to keep on doing this as long as God lets us," he said. "It's about giving people threads of humanity to hang on to."

WHAT'S NEXT

WHAT: International Ethnic Fest

WHO: Sponsored by Milwaukee Area Technical College

WHERE: Downtown Milwaukee Campus, 700 W State St., in room S120

WHEN: Monday to Friday, March 20 and 21

COST: free

WHAT: Interfaith community dinner through Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee

WHEN: 6 to 9 p.m., April 10

WHO: Oak Creek residents of religious diversity must apply to be considered for the dinner. About 10 people will be selected.

WHY: to share faith experiences based on moderated discussion

CONTACT: Jenni Reinke, AmazingFaiths@interfaithconference.org

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