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How we rebuild after an American tragedy
August 15, 2012
August is usually a time when cities and towns fall quiet; we recharge, spend time with family and friends, and prepare for the bustle of fall.
This year, just as we began to embrace the quiet, a violent attack struck in Wisconsin, and gunshots reverberated across the nation.
The tragic mass shooting at the Sikh gurdwara (house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on Sunday, August 5th, called upon us to challenge this intolerance and hate, and mend the ragged wounds in our social fabric.
Charged by a fierce commitment to bridge religious divides, pursue justice and build community, Auburn and its social action initiative, Groundswell, immediately went to work, demonstrating that people of all faiths and backgrounds nationwide stand firmly against violence and bigotry, and with the Sikh families and community in Wisconsin.
Valarie Kaur, the director of Groundswell, took the lead in our efforts. As a Sikh American, Valarie unfortunately knows all too well that the Sikh community is no stranger to violence. In the decade after September 11, 2001, she traveled across the country to capture the stories of Sikh Americans who suffered hate crimes because of their faith, producing a brilliant documentary, Divided We Fall.
Your encouragement and support have been vital to our work and so I’d like to share with you how Auburn helped lead the interfaith efforts for understanding and healing.
Solidarity with the Sikh Community
On Monday, we put out a call to collect messages and prayers of hope, a way for people across our country to unite in saying, “Today we are all Sikh.” Within twelve hours of launching, we collected more than 2,000 messages. I read notes from concerned citizens in New York City, California and everywhere in between. I don't know Sandi from San Francisco, but her message, "Please know that there are thousands of us praying for you during this difficult time. Bless you all," resonates in my heart.
Pictures always speak louder than words, so to show the national support for the Sikh community, Groundswell created a map where you can zoom in and read the powerful messages from across the country.
On Wednesday, Valarie traveled to Oak Creek, WI, where she prayed and mourned with the families. While media was not allowed to cover all the events of the week, the families asked Valarie and her producing partner, Sharat Raju, to film and archive this solemn time in the community's history. You can read her live-tweeting of the visit to Wisconsin at @valariekaur.
By Friday, we had collected over 4,000 messages like Sandi's, which Valarie delivered in person to the community on Sunday, at the first service since the attacks. Children of the six slain worshippers accepted the letters on the community's behalf, tears in their eyes. Amar Kaleka’s father, the president of the temple, was killed in the shooting. Amar told Valarie, "The shooter attempted to divide us. But you are all heroes." (Valarie told him she would share his words of courage and strength with those concerned for the Sikh American community, and it is my privilege to fulfill that promise now.)
While attacks on Sikh Americans are not a new phenomenon, the national outpouring of support and attention is a first. "In more than a decade of combating hate against Sikh and Muslim American communities, I have never seen solidarity like this," Valarie said.
What helped grow the awareness was Auburn mobilizing our media campaign immediately to advance our message of a national commitment to fight for a world where we can all live, work, and worship in safe and caring communities. Here are just a few examples of the media attention Auburn and Valarie generated:
And for the multifaith community, Auburn witnessed how our solidarity grows the power of faithful America – see below, for example, Valarie’s photographs of neighbors writing notes of support, and a dream catcher left by a Native American man at the Sikh gurdwara.
The message is clear: We are all in this together. With millions standing with Sikh Americans in the wake of this heinous attack, Auburn is driving the vision of an America where our religious values and beliefs deepen our commitment to one another, and have the power to unite, not divide, our national community.
Your encouragement and support also sends a powerful message. Thank you for standing with Auburn as together we build a future that is better than today.
With gratitude and wishes for a peaceful rest of summer,
The Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson
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