Remembering the Oak Creek Tragedy in Film

By Valarie Kaur and Sharat Raju

Published on Huffington Post.

Six months ago today, a small Midwestern town was rocked by a mass shooting at a house of worship. The massacre in Oak Creek, Wisconsin that claimed the lives of six people on August 5, 2012 is only one in a tragically long list of recent mass shootings.

Yet in this political moment – when sustained public pressure could lead to real gun control reform – the Oak Creek tragedy and response offers a vital lesson: the efficacy of resilience.

We are filmmakers who spent weeks on the ground with the Sikh community in Oak Creek, WI, documenting and reporting on the shooting. The victims’ families gave us permission to enter their lives and film the aftermath of the tragedy from inside their homes and gurdwara (house of worship), where media cameras were not allowed. Although we had spent the last decade filming stories of minority communities to help advance civil rights in the U.S., we had never seen such depth of sorrow result in such unity, strength and hope.

This nine-minute short film presents an intimate portrait of the Sikh community in the 45 days after the Oak Creek shooting.

Throughout the aftermath, we witnessed the Sikh spirit of Chardi Kala — an everlasting hope and optimism even in the face of bloodshed. Sons carried their fathers’ coffins, reciting the name of God together. Women and men hummed prayers as they cleaned blood-stained carpets inside a bullet-ridden house of worship. Families gathered together in the same space where their loved ones were massacred to pray for the soul of the fallen — including the gunman. Young people who just lost their parents faced a sea of cameras to explain the tenets of their faith. Community organizers asked our government to do more to protect its citizens against hate crimes, profiling, discrimination, and gun violence.

And an 18-year old boy who lost his mother in the massacre traveled to Washington, DC to amplify this message. On Sept. 19, 2012, Harpreet Saini became the first Sikh in U.S. history to testify before the Senate in a historic congressional hearing on combating hate in America.

On this six month anniversary, as we honor the lives lost to violence, may we also remember the spirit of Chardi Kala to quiet the impulse to anger and revenge, cultivate an ethic of acceptance and grace, and most importantly, embolden us to organize — and not give up.