ple of faith and moral conscious to use the
Groundswell platform to launch their own
You have been a leading voice in the Sikh
community, especially in response to the
mass shooting at the gurdwara in Oak Creek,
Wisconsin last year. Can you tell us about that
The last year has been an unprecedented
moment in the history of the Sikh American
In the wake of Oak Creek, I experienced
sadness and grief that felt similar to the
aftermath of 9/11, when Balbir Singh Sodhi
became the first of too many murdered in
hate. But this time, 11 years later, something
remarkable happened: The nation’s cameras
turned to our community. For the first time
in 100 years of history, we stood at the center
of the nation’s attention.
In the immediate aftermath, I watched
Sikh families, especially the young people of
Oak Creek, in the midst of unspeakable pain
and sorrow, turn to face the sea of cameras,
tell their stories, and call for an end to hate,
not just against Sikhs but against all people.
In them, I witnessed the true meaning of
the Sikh spirit of Chardi Kala — in the face of
darkness and unspeakable despair, everlasting high spirits and hope. And they weren’t alone. I joined
a rising generation of Sikh Americans who stepped up to
organize vigils, write op-eds, work with law enforcement,
use social media, appear on television, and tell our community’s stories to a public who needed to hear from us. As a
result, tens of thousands of people stood with us to say that
an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.
In the weeks following the tragedy, leading civil rights
organizations such as the Sikh Coalition along with Groundswell at Auburn Seminary took the community’s stories
into the halls of power, requesting that the US government
better monitor and track hate crimes in the US and combat
domestic terrorism. It resulted in a historic hate crime
hearing September 19, 2012, where Sikhs led people of all
colors and faiths to join together to call for an end to hate
in America. Sharat and I chronicled the story in the short
film Oak Creek: In Memorium.
Today, nearly a year after Oak Creek, I believe we are at a
crossroads. Will we return to the old way of fighting for only
our community, our own issues, and even our own organizations? Or will we embrace this new way of fighting, in a
spirit of collaboration? We have much work ahead and it
inspires me that we now have bold new coalitions to continue the fight for civil rights and human dignity for all people in the US.
What is the most important life lesson you give to your students?
The way we make change is just as important as the
change we make.
Seva means “sacred service” in the Sikh tradition. We
often think of seva as the product of our work, but I have
come to believe that seva is the way we serve too. In a world
COUR TES Y: VALARIEKAUR. COM
Valarie Kaur addresses a press conference, following a historic hearing on tracking hate crimes against Sikhs, Hindus and Arabs in the US in the wake of the
Wisconsin gurdwara tragedy. As a result of her relentless organizing with the Sikh Coalition and others, the FBI agreed to track hate crimes against Sikhs,
Hindus, Arabs and other at-risk communities to prevent such crimes in the future.
where too often people work in stress or fatigue, we must
embody the wellness and joy we want our service to bring
to the world. This is the path of the saint-soldier that my
grandfather taught me.
‘The arc of the moral universe is long,’ said the Reverend
Dr Martin Luther King, ‘but it bends toward justice.’
I know that bending the arc toward justice is long and
arduous work, and the work will not be done when we die.
But if we open our hearts to the love that is always around
us, I believe that we can find meaning and joy in the jour-
How do you practice this lesson in your own daily life?
Each morning, I recite shabads and listen to kirtan from
the Sikh tradition at home. Each week, I dance kathak, a
classical North Indian dance that weaves together Hindu
and Muslim traditions and storytelling, using the whole
body as an instrument of prayer.
Frequently, I visit a gurdwara to pray in community.
These practices help me walk my path with intention and
But the most important practice I learned from Papaji. In
the final years of my grandfather’s life, I watched Papaji suf-
fer slowly as his body shut down from Parkinson’s disease.
He found ways to smile and express profound joy, even
when he could barely move his head or eyes. He loved being
alive. He delighted in beauty. He soaked in the love he
received. And he showed me how to be fearless, even in the
face of death.
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