A grid of portraits of the six victims of the Oak Creek massacre: five Sikh men in turbans and beards, of various ages, and one woman wearing a purple head covering. The bottom of the image reads: 'We are a nation of many nationalities, many races, many religions - bound together by a single unity, the unity of freedom and equality.' - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

When I heard the news of the Oak Creek shooting last year, my immediate reaction was fear for my friend and his family who regularly attended the gurdwara. Thankfully, my friend was safe. Sadly, his uncle and founder of the gurdwara, Satwant Singh Kaleka, was killed while trying to prevent the shooter from entering.

Today marks the first anniversary of one of the biggest tragedies to ever happen at a place of worship in our country. On August 5, 2012, a self-proclaimed white supremacist shot and killed six Americans attending religious services at a gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Oak Creek, a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

After a year of grief, anger, and reflection, I want to commemorate this important anniversary and honor the victims of Oak Creek by deepening the dialogue on hate crimes, gun violence, and racism in our country. Today we can honor the lives of those lost in Oak Creek by talking about how we, as individuals and as a country, can have more empathy and understanding for those that look different.

In the midst of horrific and senseless violence last year, I was amazed, not to mention deeply uplifted, by the words and perspective of my friend Kanwar and his entire family. A year after the tragedy, the responsefrom the community in Wisconsin has been no less inspiring —including their 6K fundraiser aptly named Chardhi Kala, or “perpetual optimism”. I hope we can all share in those sentiments today: To transcend the violence and hate that occurred in Oak Creek a year ago today and transform it into understanding for one another’s differences, build empathy between our communities, and to hold unwavering compassion and respect for life.

Rest in peace, Paramjit Kaur. Rest in peace, Prakash Singh. Rest in peace, Satwant Singh Kaleka. Rest in peace, Sita Singh. Rest in peace, Suveg Singh Khattra. Rest in peace, Ranjit Singh.



C.M. Samala is Director of 18MR.org