South of the Mason Dixon line, during bible study, the hard-earned American dream of nine beautiful worshippers came to a murderous end. Hitting a tender spot, nervousness now grips our nation. We are at a fragile make or break point, determined by how we handle our age-old problems of racism, guns and violence.
Only months before, in the same city of Charleston, the police killing of Walter Scott ignited peaceful protest. The victims of this abusive power, most often, have been our brothers of diversity. Some say black, I say brown. Some say African-American, I say American. Scientifically, there is only one race: the human race.
On August 5th, 2012, our beloved father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, was murdered in his own church on a Sunday morning by a Neo Nazi man.
The eerie parallels between then and now are profound.
Many are calling the gunman in Charleston a psychotic monster. When a former Army Sergeant desecrated our house of worship, I considered the same. However, this description is an easy way out for those who need a simple answer to a very complex problem.
Not many have had it worse in the States than the people of diversity. Those in power commonly divide us up to their own benefit, whether social, commercial or political. By doing this, they dismantle the vehicle of the American Dream. They weaken the cohesion of the United States of America. While others enjoy the privilege of being born to a dominant culture, this segregation has left many disenfranchised and impoverished.
This is nothing new, and is a problem all around the world. Many economists have come to find this form of nepotism harmful to a thriving civilization. Here in America, because of our inherent diversity, this bigotry is commonplace, and our civility suffers. Especially, in the reflection of our laws.
We are long overdue for a healthy conversation regarding the easy access to firearms, which can only embolden dangerous people to carry out these massive crimes. What was once just a hateful thought quickly becomes a horrific tragedy. In Charleston, the killer, a previous criminal offender, was illegally given a gun for his twenty first birthday... only months before. When we refuse to have a discussion about gun responsibility, when our fellow Americans are gunned down in churches, we, as a compassionate society fail.
In order to remedy this, we must confront our most dangerous foe: ourselves. We must reject our own prejudices. We must value people over ideology. This fellowship and empathy is the truest form of patriotism we can gift each other. It will be reflected in the laws we aim to reform. As John Locke would point out: It is only under the blanket of these laws that we can find refuge and prosperity.
When I remember my father's smile and jolly laugh, my eyes well up. Our hearts are aching for the families in South Carolina. It's so hard to maintain a positive spirit as these atrocities take place in our cherished nation.
When in dark times, I am reminded of a vedic teaching from my Sikh faith: "chardhi kala." Translated, it means "eternal optimism." The science behind the mantra is sound. The universe only continues to stand as creation trumps destruction. Even though the counter forces of ignorance can be strong, it is this hopeful perspective which propels us forward.
I know my father died a hero. Even after being shot multiple times, he courageously fought off the gunman, saving many, including my mother, at the expense of his own life. He defended the temple he founded, and this house of worship is the gift he left to us and his grandchildren.
Just like Felicia Sanders. She sacrificed her body to cover and shield her young granddaughter, as her son, Tywanza, tried to talk down the gunman and distract him. Through his heroism, Felicia survived but Tywanza did not.
Self Sacrifice is one of the greatest expressions of our humanity and divinity. We must all follow this example to engage in discourse and enact policy change. I feel this is the best way to honor the estimated 30,000 people per year who have lost their lives to a gun since my father.
We must all unite and share the suffering of the nine families of Charleston. Through this unity, instead of a race war, our nation can lead a global race towards peace.
In honor of our loved ones who were taken in the historic Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, South Carolina, I humbly send this prayer to the families of the fallen:
On this Father's Day, we answer my father's dying prayer.
With tears in our eyes and heavy hearts, together in unity, we kneel and bow our heads. In this silent moment, we must envision a courageous new future. One where we rise to our feet and lift our heads to realize a simple truth: We inhabit the same home, under the same sky, with very little difference in our DNA.
Ultimately, leaving the American dream undisturbed. As we stand together, figuratively, united against hate and injustice, we embrace our differences rather than fear them. Only then will we fulfill our duty and pass to our children a nation the delivers on the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.