Video by Vianka Villa | Multimedia Producer
Two years ago, a gunman opened fire on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six worshipers and injuring others. Students and faculty gathered Saturday to participate in a Day of SEVA to remember the tragedy through community service and interfaith unity.
The Sikh Coalition, Sun Devils Are Better Together, Arizona Interfaith Movement and ASU Project Humanities combined efforts to commemorate the shooting with selfless community service, a concept core to Sikhism. The event kicked off a week-long food and school supplies drive for St. Vincent de Paul.
“It is with eternal optimism that we engage in seva, or selfless community service, today as a way to remember the tragedy,” said ASU alumnus and the Sikh Coalition Volunteer Advocate Permpreet Singh Gill.
SEVA is also an acronym standing for service, empathy, volunteering and action.
Day of SEVA conveyed that the temple shooting was not only a Sikh tragedy, but also an American one, Singh Gill said.
“Rather than simply grieve about what happened, we are engaging in a day of community service that exemplifies the Sikh-American spirit,” he said. “I want you to understand that we are not only Sikhs, we’re Americans, too.”
Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world but many don’t know much about the religion, Singh Gill said. A turban, which is a reminder to act according to Sikh values of love, equality and justice, is targeted for hate by some.
Such positive attitude lies within the idea of eternal optimism Chardi Kala – a concept crucial to Sikhism. Sikhs believe it’s important to stay happy and humble even during the times of adversity.
“We’ve been knocked down so many times in our history but never once ever we gave up, never once we allowed it to get us to where ‘Okay, I’m going to be vengeful now,’” Singh Gill said. “We’ve never allowed the idea of tit for tat to really affect us. If someone does something to us, we are going to figure out how to change it to a positive.”
Music was also a large part of the event. Two young girls sang a song, written by ASU alumna Kendra Clement, that included the lyrics, “Fill yourself with light so when the sun goes down you’ll shine,” reflecting the underlying theme of eternal happiness.
Two Valley students recorded the song for a CD that will be used for the program called Arizona Golden Rule Educational Experiences, which uses music and art to teach students to treat others as they would like to be treated, Curriculum Consultant for Arizona Interfaith Movement Sue Lynn Stiner said.
Stiner works to implement the AGREE program in the first through eighth grades to build an environment that accepts diversity among students, despite cuts to arts programs.
“(The arts are) such an integral part of humans’ personalities that needs to not be reduced,” she said. “That’s the purpose of AGREE – to bring that message of treating the other people the way you want to be treated in a simple, academic setting backed by the arts.”
Stiner seeks to establish connections with ASU students and plans to collaborate with the student interfaith organization Sun Devils Are Better Together.
Religious studies senior Johnny Martin is a president and founder of Sun Devils Are Better Together. Calling it “radically inclusive,” Martin said the organization encourages people to move across the lines of difference and past fundamental disagreements.
“(At ASU) it’s not so much about having to really look for that Sikh person or that Muslim person,” Martin said. “They already have vibrant, active faith communities with student organizations and ministries on campus. Really it’s more about how to get these groups to work together and to engage with each other and find shared values and their common goals.”
The Day of SEVA event is just the first step on the road to building interfaith unity, Singh Gill said.
“It’s a way for me to create an idea of unity, especially on the first week,” he said. “Let’s have more dialogues, let’s create these positive vibrations throughout the whole campus, and that can’t be done with one event. This is the start to many bigger things.”
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @KseniaMaryasova