Last week, a shooting at the Molson Coors campus killed six people, including the gunman. It was the deadliest mass shooting in Wisconsin since the Sikh Temple shooting in Oak Creek in 2012.
Pardeep Singh Kaleka was directly impacted by the Sikh Temple shooting. His father was killed by the gunman who was a white supremacist. Kaleka has since tried to live up to his father’s philosophy. He works with the organization Serve 2 Unite, co-authored a book with former white supremacist Arno Michaelis, and now serves as the executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee.
"We will heal, collectively. We will get to a better place," says Kaleka. "My hope is ... that we learn from just everything that is happening with all of this."
"It’s never justified to pick up a firearm and take somebody’s life," he adds. "But at the same time, if we don’t understand this, all six of those lives — including the shooter and including the victims — would have been for nothing."
Kaleka says one of the key lessons he learned from the Sikh Temple shooting and his work with Interfaith is that there's a communal and individual responsibility to "be honest with ourselves ... and really be kind to ourselves."
He admits his job isn't "normal," and when tragedy falls in your own backyard it can be hard to be a leader and give others strength.
"It's not normal to show up to mass shooting sites all over the United States. It's maybe not normal to see as much suffering," says Kaleka. "It is an honor to do that work, but at the same time I have to remember that the world is a good place and my children are a great reminder of that."
He notes that all of the issues surrounding mass shootings and community violence presents a challenge for parents, because it's the children who are really becoming activists to fight for change.
"We go through this collective trauma of gun violence, communal violence. We really have to ask ourselves: are we fulfilling that promise for future generations that we shall make a world better for them than the one we inherited? And I think in a way, if we’re honest with it, we’re failing," says Kaleka.
He says the first step in responding to mass shootings is instituting reasonable gun policies across the nation.
"Nothing leads to inaction more than the lack of vulnerability," he says. "Because if you can feel like it doesn't affect you and your community, you can almost pardon yourself from the responsibility of having to do something. And I think right now, Milwaukeeans are understanding that this can happen anywhere, to anyone."
In the meantime, Kaleka says Interfaith is working to create a trauma-informed congregational approach to public health and promoting "understanding rather than rejection."
"If we get better at doing that, I think we can create a safer, more loving environment for all of us," he says.