Sikh Temple in Oak Creek hosts “Heritage Day” event meant to unite cultures

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OAK CREEK -- Sikh community members, city leaders and others gathered at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek Wednesday evening, November 21st for the very first "Heritage Day" event.  The goal of the event was: "Uniting communities and cultures by breaking barriers."

A white supremacist was one of the speakers at Wednesday night's event, and Sikhs said the keynote speaker brought a unique perspective to the temple.

The event, organized by Pardeep Kaleka, son of one of six worshippers killed in the August mass shooting incident, included appetizers, speakers from different cultural and religious backgrounds, and a traditional Punjabi dinner.

The keynote speaker was reformed white supremacist Arno Michaelis. Michaelis admits he once lived a similar life to white supremacist gunman Wade Michael Page, who brought terror to the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, before taking his own life.

Michaelis turned his life around 20 years ago, and began preaching peace in the Greater Milwaukee area.

"There certainly is a lot of compelling discussion to be had about who I was and who I could have become, and I'm happy to talk about that, but tonight's not about me -- it's about the principles of Heritage Day and of human beings appreciating the differences that we have," Michaelis said.

In the aftermath of the Sikh Temple shooting, Michaelis helped Kaleka understand how someone could hurt a group of people the way Page did.

"He's been the one to explain to me why certain ideologies cause certain people to hate and that for me was the one thing I can wrap my head around," Kaleka said.

FBI officials have finalized their investigation into this shooting, and say they may never know why Page specifically targeted the Sikhs.

Kaleka said he hopes Michaelis' message helps others in the temple to understand -- as a way to kick off what he hopes will become an annual event.

"He went from hate to love, and he represents what can be great about America," Kaleka said.

The event was put on by "Serve 2 Unite," -- a group founded by the families affected by the Sikh Temple shooting on August 5th.

The group, S2U "believes that national changes begin at the grassroots level. This is the reason to build a regional network of diverse interfaith youth leaders to help at-risk communities while promoting cross-cultural religious awareness. S2U works to create a world where all faiths and all people are recognized, respected and celebrated."

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