When a white supremacist gunman killed six members of a Sikh community Sunday in Oak Creek, WI, before taking his own life, the tragedy prompted an effort by Sikhs to promote education, understanding and unity.
in Plymouth hosted a prayer service and candlelight vigil Wednesday open to the general public and attended by several Sikh and interfaith communities from Metro Detroit to increase outreach and understanding of a faith still foreign to many Americans.
"In the three days since this has happened, there has been a lot of outreach," said Dalpreet Saluja of Ann Arbor, a five-year member of Hidden Falls Gurdwara Sahib's congregation.
The biggest message to take out of the tragedy, Saluja said, is education about what he described as a "peace-loving" religion.
"We need to go out and educate Americans on what Sikhism is about," he said.
The event at Hidden Falls Gurdwara Sahib included a prayer service, community meal and a solemn candlelight vigil with speakers from various religious institutions, including Sikh, Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders.
"We grieve with you," the Rev. Bob Hart of the Birmingham-based Episcopal Diocese of Michigan told the nearly 1,000 in attendance. Of the attendees, many carried American flags and handmade signs calling for peace and an ending hate.
Addressing the crowd, Steven Spreitzer from the Detroit-based Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion said a lack of understanding of another culture has been evident in Plymouth and Canton, albeit with less tragic consequences. Spreitzer cited a 2010 incident where a Plymouth-Canton student's , a dull, decorative dagger used in Sikh males' attire, was banned by the Plymouth-Canton Board of Education after hearing complaints from parents. The decision .
To increase outreach and understanding, Spreitzer said, education about different cultures needs to start at an early age.
"If you grew up in isolation and don't know other groups by middle school," he said, "It hurts your ability to have meaningful interactions with them."
Tushar Singh of Northville, a five-year member of the Hidden Falls Gurdwara Sahib congregation, said he appreciated the support from groups of other faiths.
"The fact we had so many people here from interfaith organizations represents how much outreach we're having," he said. "The more we get (our message of peace) out, the less issues we'll have."