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Throughout my life, I have always had to go the extra mile to make sure others know about the faith I practice easing their fears of the ‘unknown’. Being born and raised as a Sikh in America, I have had the fortune of growing up in a diverse town in New Jersey, but I have still felt the glares and the confused looks when I walk past others. The reality is that Sikhs have been in America for over 125 years, first arriving in 1899. A misconception that I have noticed is that there is a belief that the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 ended up negatively affecting the Sikh community in America. While that is true, we cannot forget about our history in this country. The first recorded attack against the Sikh Community in America was in 1907 in Bellingham, Washington. The attack and riots were led by a mob of 400-500 members of the Asiatic Exclusion League that targeted Sikh lumber workers, throwing them onto the streets, beating them, and stealing their money. Since arriving in America, Sikhs have always been the subject of hate and violence for the way they express their faith.

Luckily, today is a much better situation for Sikh Americans but it doesn’t come without obstacles. Since the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, a politics of hate has been allowed to flourish. Some will disagree, but I have noticed a direct correlation with the outcome of the 2016 Presidential campaign and the increase in the number of minorities (Sikhs included) being targeted by hate and violence.

I was raised by two extremely loving and caring parents that did their best to inculcate me with Sikh principles and history as well as basic principles that make a good American citizen. I have always been passionate about engaging and speaking with people in my community as well as everywhere else I go. This summer, I attended the first ever Sikh Professionals Conference hosted by NASMDA in Toronto, Canada. My interest in attending this event was mainly to network but also attend a panel on diversity in politics that featured MPP Gurratan Singh, MPP Prabhmeet Sarkaria, MP Ruby Sahota, and NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. This was my first time meeting every single panelist in person although I have been following them on social media for quite some time. I got the chance to meet the Attorney General for the first time, and it turned out he already knew me! After spending some time with the Attorney General Grewal he suggested we set a meeting up back in Trenton, NJ.

In early August, I drove down to New Jersey State Police Headquarters where the Attorney General had some meetings to take care of, so he told me to meet him there. It just so happened, the AG had a meeting with Colonel Pat Callahan of NJ State Police. The AG invited me to this meeting and this is where I met the Colonel for the first time after hearing so much about him through social media. After the meeting concluded, I got to spend some time with the Colonel I realized that we had a lot in common – we both are committed to creating an environment in New Jersey where everyone no matter their background, race, gender, religion, etc. feel safe and can be proud to call the Garden State their home.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit and my thanks to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal who connected me with Colonel Callahan. Since that first meeting, the Colonel assured me that we would be working together in the future. Earlier this month, I went back to State Police Headquarters in Trenton to work on a project that I thought would have a very positive impact in the state. The Colonel and I created a video which addresses the Kirpan – Sikh Article of faith (ceremonial sword of varying lengths) and raises awareness of the faith as well. My motivation for making this project come to life was the fact that I am an Amritdhari (formally initiated Sikh) and I wanted to make sure others like me didn’t get questioned or hassled for wearing their Kirpans. The project turned out to be a success and so far it’s reaching our targeted audience – law enforcement and the general public in New Jersey.

Just today, my dad was in Trenton and ended up speaking to a police officer parked near him. My dad brought up the video and the officer replied, “oh yeah the kid and the kirpan?” My dad replied, “that’s my son!” Upon which the officer smiled and shook my dad’s hand.

Hearing this from my dad gave me more assurance that my initiative with Colonel Callahan was a success. I cannot thank Colonel Callahan enough for his compassion, empathy, and vision. This project is just the beginning of a very fruitful partnership with the State Police of New Jersey!

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