Many people strive to be unique and stand out in the world, but I have it easier than most. My faith requires me to wear a turban.
As a Sikh, I maintain the required uncut hair and cover it with a turban. With this unique identity comes a deep responsibility to my family, my faith, and most importantly, myself. People view my community through me, and this compels me to constantly strive for what is right.
While I have been fortunate to be largely accepted in my school and local community, many Sikhs have had a different experience. A recent study conducted by the Sikh Coalition found that nearly 70 percent of Sikhs in New York have been bullied or harassed in school. This demonstrates the continuing struggle of minorities in modern America, and highlights the need to empower marginalized communities.
For innocent Americans killed in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, this past Sunday, their Sikh identity became the reason for their massacre. This brings to fore the ignorance and hatred among some members of our society.
However, as pointed out by the Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, the Sikh community responded to this hate with a message of love. The feeling of tremendous love and harmony that radiated from both Sikh Americans and Americans in general overshadowed the hatred that had spawned it. It is this message of love and harmony that all Americans must spread.
The recent tragedies in Aurora and Oak Creek highlight an issue that has troubled me for a long time -- a lack of involvement of youth in their community. In youth camps, symposia and leadership retreats, I have been surrounded for years by the talk of how the youth need to step up and ensure a bright future for our world. However, that talk is often left at just that -- talk.
The response to the Wisconsin tragedy has helped affirm that youth CAN make a difference, whether it is at a local or the national level. I am inspired by the countless vigils and remembrance services for the victims of Wisconsin that have been planned by the youth. In fact it was this inspiration that led my friend and I to plan our own Remembrance event.
We planned A Day of Hope and Healing, where gurdwaras have been asked to sing a specific shabad (hymn) this upcoming Sunday at the time that the shootings took place a week earlier. This shabad emphasizes resilience, and invokes the Divine support, in the face of adversity. We are encouraged by the response, with over 1,000 attendees on Facebook, and participation from over 30 gurdwaras, from California to New York to Toronto to New Zealand!
The fear of failure is generally a huge deterrent to the youth when they conceive an initiative. However I can attest to the opposite, as there is an abundance of support for any projects that the youth undertake. The response we received to our initiative from both the youth and the adults has been incredibly inspiring.
In planning our event, I realized one important thing. We all speak of the power of youth-led movements, yet we do not realize that everything is there for the taking. We do not need to wait for the world to allow us to start these movements -- the world is waiting for us.
I would like to take this opportunity to call on the youth of all faiths. The future of the world rests on our shoulders, and it is up to us to ensure a better and more tolerant future for the American nation. We need to make sure we understand one another. We should know what happens within a mosque and what our Catholic brothers and sisters believe. As we take this approach, we will begin to understand each other far better than we do now.
Let us embrace the diversity amongst us, as this is what makes America amazing. The fact that I, wearing a turban, can sit next to someone whose forefathers were slaves in this country and have an equal chance in life is incredible. We are finally arriving at a time where equality actually means something, and we must further this progress towards equality.
Let us not be defeated by one person's hate. Let us instead use this as a driving force towards the future. The problem is not that Sikhs are being mistaken as Muslims. The problem is the failure to recognize the beauty in our diversity.
As I write this, I feel empowered by the youth-led movements in response to the Wisconsin shootings. If there is one thing that the youth can take away from this article, it is this: This is our time! Pick a cause, even if it is not religious, and watch the difference that you can make in the world. Let us take the world into our hands and further the causes we believe in so dearly. We have the support and the backing we need, and now it is on us. Let us come together as a community, mourn the tragic events of the Aurora and the Oak Creek massacres, and learn from them as we move forward.
From this day forward, let the youth around the world feel empowered. Let them feel that they can make a difference in the world, because this is our time!
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., do we want to be the headlights or the taillights in determining the direction in which out rapidly changing world is moving?