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Tonight was extraordinary - a night I will never forget. We screened a 9 min film preview on the Oak Creek tragedy for the victims’ families, the mayor, and community members who lived through the event just four months ago. I had been on the ground after the mass shooting for many weeks, reporting and filming the aftermath with Sharat Raju. But tonight was the first time we shared our work with the community. We screened clips from American Made and Divided We Fall and ended with a preview of a potential upcoming film on Oak Creek.
It was a heart-wrenching experience to watch these families see their stories on the big screen and wipe away tears. After the film ended, Kamal Saini, Harpreet Saini and Pardeep Kaleka, who lost parents in the shooting, stood up to tell their remarkable stories. The love and support that had poured in from all corners emboldened them to respond to hate with love and forgiveness. Their stories opened up a space for brave new dialogue in the audience. Community members opened their hearts: a woman tearfully confessed that she wanted to visit the gurdwara after the tragedy but kept her distance out of respect and expressed her condolences for the first time, a schoolteacher described how the tragedy inspired her students to learn everything about the Sikh faith and gave her hope in the future, and a former member of a hate group stood up to tell his story of transformation and began to cry and ask for forgiveness, in the name of the six people who were killed. Pardeep crossed the theater to embrace him and they sat together for the rest of the night, an unlikely pair who had both resolved to combat hate and wage peace.
Tonight’s event was a profound experience for me — it reminded me how storytelling can inspire bravery and vulnerability that can touch and transform us. I left the theater once again astonished by the generosity of the families in Oak Creek - Kamal, Harpreet, Pardeep, Raghvinder Singh who all feel like second family to us. As I reflect back on this year, I am deeply grateful for the privilege of witnessing and playing a role in the healing process in response to the Oak Creek tragedy. Four months later, it has faded from national discourse, but the call to end hate and fear in America is still upon us. And everyone has a role - the schoolteacher, the mother, the civil rights advocate, the neighbor, the storyteller, the healer. We have long hard and beautiful work ahead in the new year.
PS. We will post the film preview online soon! Now that we have shared it with the families and the people of Oak Creek, we can share it with you all! Stay tuned —
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Title of film (or if it’s online, the link)
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