On Aug. 5, 2012, a white supremacist gunman killed six people and wounded others at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, just outside of Milwaukee. The gunman was a member of the largest racist skinhead organization on Earth.
In the late 1980′s and early 1990′s, Arno Michaelis created that hate organization.
However, this Sunday, Dec. 10, at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, Michaelis will be sharing the stage with Pardeep Kaleka, the eldest son of Satwant Singh Kaleka – the president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin who was gunned down during the attacks – to help show how empathy and kindness are the keys to stopping racism. The event is titled “Moving Past Hate.”
The two men together are the founder of Serve 2 Unite, a movement that was born as a response to the Oak Creek Sikh temple atrocity. Their mission statement says it all: “In utter defiance of fear, ignorance, and hatred, we cultivate courage, wisdom, love, and human kinship on our Earth.”
Masood Akhtar is an entrepreneur and adviser to the Muslim community, and has lived in Madison for more than 30 years. He is the founder of “We Are Many – United Against Hate” and host for the event that will feature these two men. Akhtar is hoping for a big turnout.
“The guy that started the group and one of the victim’s sons started talking to each other after this incident took place and they became not just a friend, but family friends,” Akhtar tells Madison365.
“On top of that, they decided to go ahead and form a non-profit organization – Serve 2 Unite – to promote peace,” he continues. “This all happened because these two people decided to sit down together. It’s something that normally doesn’t happen in this kind of situation where one group is killing the other group. Sitting down, educating people, learning about each other always helps. This was such a great story that we decided to bring it to people’s attention as part of educational programs.”
Serve2Unite students and educators have created community art projects and block parties, book drives for incarcerated people, and peace-themed PSAs. Serve2Unite’s efforts have impacted the lives of over 600 school-aged kids, ranging in age from second grade through high school, using creative expression to forge bonds and replace enmity.
“I was there the first time that these two guys met at a Thai restaurant and I explained to him what we were trying to do with We Are Many: United Against Hate and [Arno Michaelis] came on board very quickly,” Akhtar remembers. “He wanted to be a part of this.”
Akhtar started “We Are Many: United Against Hate” late last year over concerns about the rise in hate crimes, bigotry and racism against people of color, immigrants, LGBT people, Jews, Muslims, and other religious minorities. The movement is led by a group of diverse community leaders from throughout Wisconsin.
“As part of this effort, we focus on two areas: education and policy. We strongly believe that when we talk about education it means interaction and sitting down with people to hear ideas,” Akhtar says. “It becomes immediately clear when you do that we have so many more commonalities than we have differences. Once you explain that, people quickly understand that.”
The big thing for Akhtar about Sunday’s “Moving Past Hate” event is that both the Republican and Democrat parties of Dane County agreed to be co-sponsors of the event and to also promote it. In fact, for Akhtar, that’s huge.
“When it comes to getting things done, politics always seem to get in the way. Our group is actually non-partisan. We don’t even want to call it bi-partisan. The reason for that is that when it comes to hate, racism and bigotry, as soon as you say, ‘I need bi-partisan support’ it becomes an ideology issue,” Akhtar explains. “So, our approach is that we want to keep our organization in a non-partisan way. We are focusing on issues; not ideologies.
“So with that in mind, I think that’s remarkable that the two parties are coming together for this and, hopefully, this will become a model for other states to follow,” he continues. “We are definitely making some progress. I am thrilled that these guys came together for this and came on board to do this. I think Wisconsin is different from what I’ve seen in other states. In this kind of environment, having these two leaders come for this and then start promoting it … that for me is the first step in the right direction if we are going to handle this kind of hate and bigotry and racism.”
The moderators of the event will be Jon Miskowski of Wisconsin Public Television and Dee Hall of Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Akhtar will talk about the purpose of the event and the welcome will be given by Madison Mayor Paul Soglin. Both Michaelis and Kaleka will talk about how they came together after the horrible tragedy. Michaelis wrote a book about his life “My life after Hate” and will do a book-signing after the event. “The proceeds of that will go towards his non-profit Serve To Unite.”
Akhtar says that the most important thing he hopes people get out of this event is the necessity for community interaction.
“To people who are going to come and listen to this presentation, we really want to give them a chance to ask questions. And sometimes, not only do they ask questions, but they make suggestions for the next event,” he says. “So we want to hear what the community has to say.”
Sponsors for the event include the Republican Party of Dane County, Democratic Party of Dane County, Reach Out Wisconsin, Wisconsin Voices, Inc., WISC-TV3, Madison Magazine, City of Madison Office of Dane County District Attorney, The Tamara D. Grigsby Office for Equity and Inclusion, BEST BRAINS, The Goddard School, Scholz Nonprofit Law LLC, Freedom From Religion Foundation, OutReach LGBT Community Center, Swagat Indian Restaurant- Madison, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Charles and Elizabeth.
“I hope that people get three things out of this: education, interaction, and engagement. Please get out and talk to your neighbors and talk to your friends about what you learn here and how these two guys became friends. Start interacting,” Akhtar says. “Once you engage, hate disappears.
“For the first time at the Dane County level, two parties with different ideologies are coming together to support this kind of thing … this hope that this will take off. Hopefully, people will see people working together in a non-partisan way to make things better. That’s our problem in this day and age – we don’t talk to each other; we talk right past each other. We don’t solve problems.”
“Moving Past Hate” will take place Sunday, Dec. 10, 1:30-4:30 p.m. at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. The event is free and open to the public. Doors open at 1 p.m.