I had the profound honor to help MC the candlelight vigil held in Oak Creek, Wisconsin tonight. One year after the mass shooting at the Sikh house of worship, more than one thousand people came together for a night of prayer, music, testimonies, and remembrance. The following are my opening and closing remarks:
Welcome to the community of Oak Creek and those joining from their homes around the country and worldwide. I’m deeply honored to stand here with you tonight. One year ago, I arrived in Oak Creek for the first time to be with the community in the wake of the tragedy and serve in any way I could. In the days and weeks that followed the tragedy, I had the profound privilege to witness this the community responded not just with grief and sorrow but with the Sikh spirit of Chardi Kala, everlasting optimism and high spirits even in suffering.
I saw the spirit of Chardi Kala when the sons and daughters, nieces and nephews find the courage, in the midst of deep grief, to face the sea of cameras and call for an end to hate, not just against Sikh but all people.
I saw the spirit of Chardi Kala when the families who lost loved ones entered the gurdwara for the first time since the shooting, rolled up their sleeves, turned on the prayers, and got to work. They ripped out the blood-soaked carpets, painted over the bullet holes in the walls, and repaired the shattered windows, rebuilding the gurdwara and returning it to a space of worship — where they then proceeded to pray not just for their loved ones but also for the soul of the gunman.
And I saw the spirit of Chardi Kala when thousands of people of all faiths and creeds gathered in vigils and memorial to mourn and heal together, and respond to this tragedy with a commitment to social change.
One year later, I see the spirit of Chardi Kala in our vigil tonight. You are all here as a testament to the deep bonds of community you have created. You are ensuring that America never forget the lessons of Oak Creek.
America must remember Oak Creek, because the young people of this community who have planned this sacred anniversary event tonight, show us that the most powerful way to honor the memories of those we love is through seva, sacred service.
America must remember Oak Creek, because the Sikh community shows us how a small community can rise from the ashes of tragedy to bring people together in forgiveness and healing. The community has embodied the best of America in the Sikh spirit of resilience.
America must remember Oak Creek, because the city of Oak Creek as a whole can teach people across faiths and colors form a groundswell, we can achieve meaningful policy change in the halls of power and renew our bonds in our homes and houses of worship.
Above all, America must remember Oak Creek, because what happened here could happen again. It could happen in a church or synogogue, a mosque or another gurdwara. In a time when hate and gun violence continue to threaten the safety of our streets and schools, our homes and houses of worship, there are no spectators. Whether in a school in Newtown or a theater in Aurora or the streets of Chicago, violence can rip through any one of our communities.
And Oak Creek in particular – the largest hate-based mass shooting in recent U.S. history, the greatest act of violence on a faith community since the church bombings of the civil rights era – calls upon each of us, every single one of us, to counter hate in our homes and in our own hearts. It calls upon each of us to stand together as a beloved community.
I close with the prayer that we as Sikhs recite at the close of all our ceremonies.
“Nanak nam chardi kala, tere bhaanai sarbat da bhala.”
“In the Name of God, we find everlasting optimism.
Within Your Will, may there be grace for all of humanity.”
May there be blessings for all of humanity. May all people live and work and worship in these United States without fear. And may Oak Creek stand as a beacon of hope and inspiration on this day and all the days to come.