Pardeep Kaleka grew up near Milwaukee’s toughest ZIP code. After a horrific event changed his life, he dedicated himself to uniting with others in service.
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About Pardeep Kaleka and Serve to Unite
We all know it can be easy to get wrapped up in our routines and take our lives for granted. Sometimes it takes almost losing everything to snap out of it, including life itself. Pardeep Kaleka reached that point on August 5th, 2012.
Pardeep was born in the Punjab province of India and immigrated with his family to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the 1980s. The family followed the traditions of Sikhism, the Indian religion which observes a divine spirit connecting everything across time and space—in other words, the presence of God in everything. That belief encourages Sikhs to see everything and everyone as joined together, and for them that bond makes everyone worthy of service and protection. Sikhs share as many of their activities as possible in groups, like eating and meditating. The idea is to encourage community and an awareness of selflessness.
As a kid, Pardeep looked up to athletes like Roberto Clemente and Michael Jordan, and to his parents. Par’s father, Satwant, worked hard to build a life for his family and to serve the greater Milwaukee community. Satwant later founded the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in 1997, in the suburb of Oak Creek, and he was appointed the temple’s leader and president.
In the summer of 2012, he was on his way to a service at the temple when the unimaginable happened. A gunman had approached the temple on the morning of Sunday, August 5th, and began shooting. One of the six people he killed before turning his gun on himself was Par’s father, Satwant. He also wounded four others at the temple, including a police lieutenant who survived fifteen shots. Investigators later discovered the gunman was a white supremacist, and he had likely targeted the templegoers out of racial and religious frustration.
The outpouring of support from Milwaukeeans and others that followed was overwhelming. Still, the massacre was a painful and sobering event, especially for Pardeep.
Members of the temple met in the days after the shooting and discussed their response. Instead of focusing all of their blame on the shooter, the group looked at their own role in the situation. They decided they had a responsibility to turn what happened into an opportunity for something positive. Otherwise, the loss of the six people they loved would have been for naught.
The group landed on the phrase “Serve to Unite” because they wanted to show people through service that we all share the same human spirit. They also wanted to prevent acts of domestic terrorism from traumatizing others. Pardeep and the group thought a broader organization would be the most effective way to achieve this.
Today, Pardeep works as a trauma therapist for students and as the leader of Serve to Unite. The organization operates 10-15 floating chapters across the US and Europe, and also offers conflict resolution services to communities. Pardeep’s role is to show everyone the unique qualities they possess that could be used to help others. After all, each of us is capable of making a difference—as long as we don’t take our uniqueness for granted.
Homework for You
That makes me wonder: what do you think is unique about you? What’s something you have or something you’ve been through that you think could help someone else? Have you ever thought about sharing it? I’d be honored if you’d share it with me.
It’s like Pardeep said: he’s not a superhero, and that’s the point of this podcast. It’s people like him and you and me—all of us connected, as the Sikhs would say—that could make the world better if we just worked together.
- Read more about Serve to Unite at Serve2Unite.org.
- Follow Serve to Unite on Facebook and Twitter.
- Read Pardeep’s fifth-anniversary reflection on the Oak Creek shooting and his thoughts on Serve to Unite at the Milwaukee Independent.