Chardhi Kala memorial walk/run moves with relentless optimism in Oak Creek

Peter Zuzga
Participants leave the starting line of the Chardhi Kala 6K walk/run at Oak Creek High School on Saturday, Aug. 2. The event honored victims and survivors of the 2012 Sikh Temple shooting.
Published on: 8/5/2014

Oak Creek — Sunshine and bright spirits welcomed the greater Oak Creek community Saturday, Aug. 2, for the second annual Chardhi Kala 6K, a memorial walk and run at Oak Creek High School held in memory of the six victims of the Sikh Temple shooting two years ago.

According to temple member Harvinder Singh Ahuja, the philosophy of Chardhi Kala is relentless optimism in the Sikh religion. Every day is a new day. Take one breath at a time. Don't look at what's behind you. Keep moving forward. Pray to God that everybody should have a good day, no matter what's happening.

Chardhi Kala is just one way the Sikh community has moved forward since Wade Michael Page killed six of its temple members, and critically injured another, on Aug. 5, 2012.

But since that day, the temple and city have moved forward, and family members of deceased victims have begun to heal, slowly "turning tragedy into triumph."

"The power that we have in the community is what you do after these things happen — how we react," said Mayor Steve Scaffidi in a speech preceding the walk and run. "We are not going to stand here and take these things in our community. There is no place in the United States for a hate crime."

More than 300 people of varying religions, backgrounds and hometowns participated in the 6K, which dedicated one kilometer to each victim of the shooting. The program also offered $1,000 scholarships to six graduating seniors who explained what Chardhi Kala means to them in an essay and who proved their demonstration of the pillars of Sikhism, including service. The colors of the event were blue and orange — orange represents the sunrise and blue the sky.

Moral and emotional support came in varying forms at the 6K. Health resources set up booths behind the Oak Creek High School track; volunteers helped paint children's faces; and a jester on stilts enlivened people's spirits as kids played in inflatable play houses.

In fact, the lighthearted nature of a run and walk is precisely why the Sikh community opted to create a memorial 6K two years ago.

"It wasn't a vigil; it wasn't anything sad," said Amardeep Kaleka, the youngest son of the now-deceased former temple president, Satwant Kaleka.

Amardeep described the day as lively and positive.

"There's been more healing," he said. "Some of the grief has worn off. I feel that with all of the families."

Message boards hanging along the track from international universities and Gurdwara's also spread messages of hope. Some said "R.I.P" and "peace" while others wrote "all religions are equal" and "it's not our differences that divide us, it's our ability to recognize, appreciate and celebrate the differences."

A memorial in the middle of the field displayed photographs and biographies of the victims, along with a timeline of events since the shooting.

Baba Punjab Singh is still in critical condition since the shooting. He cannot move his body but can blink twice to indicate "yes," according to his son, Raghuvinder Singh Jaspreet.

Despite his father's condition, Jaspreet said, "We are always in the optimism of Chardhi Kala. This is the sign of optimism, people praying for us. I believe in prayers."

Jaspreet's prayer is that his father will be able to speak in his own words and tell his story of what happened on Aug. 5, 2012.

As some community members continue to heal, others have committed themselves to education and awareness.

"It was a big wake up call to Sikhs across the world," said Jagraj Singh, an educator who hosts a YouTube channel called "The Basics of Sikhi." "Had Wade Michael Page known about Sikhs, he would have never gone into a Sikh temple because he would have had understanding." Singh traveled from the U.K. to speak at the Chardhi Kala 6K.

"Sikhs are no different than the average American," he said. "We are all one."