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Members of Milwaukee's Sikh Community Lend Support to Families in South Carolina

Marti Mikkelson
(From left) Pardeep Kaleka, Arno Michaelis and Amardeep Kaleka at their office in Bay View.

This week’s killings at a Charleston church brought back memories for AmardeepKaleka.

“It shatters you and makes you feel like the tragedy is happening all over again, but on a larger scale,” Kaleka says.

It was nearly three years ago that a gunman shot and killed Kaleka’s father and five other people, as they gathered for Sunday worship at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek.

Today, Kaleka is wearing a t-shirt bearing the logo Serve 2 Unite, a support group he formed. He and his brother Pardeep are sitting in a tiny office on Milwaukee’s south side planning their trip to South Carolina. They’ll start driving on Friday, so they can get there in time for a huge church service and vigil on Sunday. The brothers say it takes a full-on community effort to move forward.

“We are all communal creatures. We don’t heal by ourselves and just the same way that people showed up after August 5 happened is the same way we’re going to heal in Charleston,” Pardeep Kaleka says.

“The support and the outpouring of love from Oak Creek to Milwaukee to Chicago to New York to all over this nation when we had our tragedy was something Pardeep and I never would have guessed would happen. We thought we’d be alone in this but now we have great partners in the Milwaukee community that embraces Serve 2 Unite, the people who come to our aid when we ask people to come to an event. It’s been amazing,” Amardeep Kaleka says.

One person who now appears with the brothers when there is a community tragedy is Arno Michaelis, a former white supremacist. He’ll go with them to Charleston.

“I’m still just reeling. I can’t imagine the suffering the families are going through, missing their mothers and fathers. It doesn’t register with me how someone can sit and pray with a group of people for an hour before murdering them. It’s taking atrocity to another level,” Michaelis says.

Michaelis says he was involved with racist organizations throughout the '90s and has since denounced the activities. He met the Kaleka brothers when they reached out to him. He plans to talk to people gathered Sunday in Charleston.

“I do intend to speak from my experience as a former white supremacist; that white supremacy relies on separatism. It relies on the idea that black people and white people are different and will never be able to see each other as human beings. So, in order to truly defy that white supremacy, we need to see each other as human beings right now,” Michaelis says.

Michaelis says what saddens him is the number of trips he makes with the Kaleka brothers. They’ve consoled grief-stricken communities following mass shootings in Las Vegas and Kansas City, as well as in Newtown, CT, where a gunman killed 20 young children.

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