Named after the Sikh articles of faith, the Sikh Coalition is holding its third annual 5K For The 5Ks fundraiser on October 5 in Sunnyvale, California, in support of their work to ensure that Sikhs are able to enjoy our right to practice our faith freely in this country. I have been a volunteer for the Sikh Coalition for two and a half years, and I realize how crucial support from our community is in enabling us to continue our work in our neighborhoods, cities, states, and across the country.
Six months after I began American Turban, two Sikh grandfathers were shot and killed in a drive-by shooting on a suburban street near Sacramento, California, while on their daily walk. The unsolved murder of these innocent men was, and still is, suspected of being a hate crime. The individual(s) responsible for this crime has never been identified.
The murders of Surinder Singh and Gurmej Atwal were a wake-up call for me. Growing up in the west, I was already very sensitive to the Sikh American experience. I had heard the stories of the blatant discrimination my father faced as he established his life here, and I had my own experiences to bear as a young Sikh boy with a turban — often the only one — in a school of hundreds of students who didn’t know what I was, and often condemned me for it. These experiences shaped me profoundly as I progressed into adulthood, and it has made me sympathetic to our elders and our children who are still facing such struggles today.
I was affected deeply by the shooting in Sacramento, particularly as I thought of my own family members who also took daily walks in our neighborhood, not unlike the two men struck down in a senseless act of hate. I became moved to do more than simply write about Sikh American issues on a website. Instead, I heard a call to become more involved in my community, to help raise awareness, and to somehow do what I could to protect our community from such crimes from happening again. I wanted to “walk the talk”, however, despite the urge to take action, I didn’t quite know where to begin.
To keep up to date on Sikh American issues, I was a subscriber to the electronic newsletters issued by various Sikh organizations, and it was through one of these that a door was opened to me. The Sikh Coalition was offering a course (the Sikh Presenter’s Course) to train volunteers in providing awareness presentations about Sikh Americans. The course was to take place about two hours from my home, but I did not waste a minute to apply. I was accepted into the course, becoming one participant among a dozen who, over three days, were being presented with the ins-and-outs of public speaking and presenting an introduction to Sikhism to different types of audiences.
After completing this training, I used the skills and knowledge I gained to provide this presentation to a variety of audiences in and outside of my local community: teachers, schools, chaplains, local officials and community groups. These presentations were always well-received by my audiences, and I gained a level of satisfaction that a positive impression was left in the minds of people who previously did not know who we were. Moreover, I hoped that in doing these presentations, we were creating ambassadors for our community that could help communicate our messages.
Still, I was inspired to do more. A year after my training as a presenter, the Sikh Coalition provided another opportunity in the form of the second annual Sikh Advocate Academy in 2012 — a five-day academy in Washington, DC, to train volunteers on how to engage with government, media and community to represent Sikh Americans in defense of our civil rights. I was accepted into that program as well, and joined another dozen trainees from a variety of backgrounds and from across the country. Over the course of that week, I not only gained valuable skills and experience in advocacy for our community, but I also established meaningful friendships in the process. In the year that followed, I participated in the Sikh Coalition’s efforts in combating bullying of our children in schools, passing workplace equality legislation in California, acting as a resource to media after the murders in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, engaging with politicians at various levels, and raising awareness and understanding of the Sikh American community in general.
Certainly, there have been a variety of victories and achievements by the Sikh Coalition in representing the interests of Sikh Americans, however, to me, the empowerment of everyday people is one of the most valuable aspects of the Sikh Coalition’s work. Not only has the support of volunteers helped to promote the Sikh Coalition’s objectives, but the volunteers were provided the tools to take on issues in their own communities, and build relationships for the Sikh community in the places that they lived. These programs make our community stronger, and I am thankful to the Sikh Coalition for providing people like me the various opportunities and support to represent my Sikh community locally and nationally.
The last year has shown that there is so much to be done in securing our place in this society, but none of this work is possible without financial support. The Sikh Coalition, like many civil rights groups, is a non-profit organization that is largely supported by its community. The programs that create activists and advocates out of everyday people requires resources and continual support, and they can only be as effective as the backing they receive from the community.
It is why I do not hesitate in wholeheartedly asking for your support in the form of a tax-deductible donation to the Sikh Coalition. Last year, donors generously contributed over $550 to the Sikh Coalition through my campaign, and I hope that this year we can exceed this amount to help the Sikh Coalition reach its fundraising goals.
Please consider making a donation by October 5. You can sponsor my participation in the event at my 5K For The 5Ks fundraising page at http://is.gd/AmericanTurban5K.
In chardi kala, I thank you in advance for your contribution.