THE KAUR FOUNDATION:
EDUCATING FOR A RIGHTFUL PLACE IN AMERICA
Washington, D.C, December 10, 2012
Kanwal Prakash Singh, NRIpress- Ramesh
The Kaur Foundation’s Gala: Phulkari & Philanthropy in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, December 2, 2012 and a myriad of other national and regional ethnic celebrations add cultural and spiritual dimensions to the growing texture of vibrancy and richness into the American landscape. Founded in 2002, Kaur Foundation is a non-profit organization based in Silver Springs, Maryland with the mission of creating awareness about Sikhs and their identity, heritage, and secular values. Kaur Foundation is promoting its mission through a National Education Initiative involving a Sikh Social Studies program being taken to schools across the US.
DISPELLING STEROTYPES THROUGH LEARNING
The Kaur Foundation Gala “Phulkari & Philanthropy,” with its theme of “excellence in diversity education: bringing awareness about Sikh Americans to schools” and shared information about the Foundation’s Sikh Social Studies program for elementary and secondary schools across the nation. The Kaur Foundation has been working hard to address issues of Sikh Americans and especially concerns of Sikh American children nationwide who are experiencing harassment, bullying, and unprovoked violence in schools. This is a travesty and egregious violation of the fundamental right of all children to education in a safe environment, free from fear, in which they can learn and excel. Many challenges confront these fellow Americans in schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods.
Sikh Americans have experienced unwarranted negative treatment, discrimination, violence, and hundreds of cases of assaults, hate crimes, and some deaths. Due to the distinct Sikh identity, we find problems of mistaken identity; job discrimination; acceptance; bullying, peer pressure, and a stressful environment in schools; unprovoked violence; hate crimes; and violations of basic rights and human dignity since the fateful events and the terrorist attack on America on September 11, 2001. These concerns have brought about organizations and initiatives to safeguard their communities from experiences that diminish their humanity, threaten their safety, and simultaneously explore responsible ways to open doors to opportunities and fulfillment of dreams.
FOUNDATION OF CULTURAL COMPETENCE
The Kaur Foundation’s 2012 Gala attracted an enthusiastic audience. The evening focused on the Sikh Social Studies program for elementary and secondary school students. Educators and political leaders from the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area offered affirmations of the significance of this endeavor and promised to advance this effort, which has already reached nearly 1.6 million students since it was introduced and a goal to have Sikh Social Studies Unit in classrooms of 2.5 million students in the next few years.
Mirin Kaur Phool, Founder and President, of The Kaur Foundation, and the driving force of the effort to bring cultural literacy into American schools welcomed the guests. U.S. Congressman Chris Van Hollen from Maryland; County Executive Ike Leggett, Montgomery County, MD; Dr. Marcie Taylor-Thoma; Ms. Valerie Ervin, Councilmember, Montgomery County, MD; Mrs. Aruna Miller, Delegate District 15, Maryland; and Ms. Ellen Flynn Giles, Board of Education Howard County, MD spoke on the occasion and applauded the work of Kaur Foundation. Award recipients included: Valerie Ervin, Aruna Miller, and Ellen Flynn Giles.
Mrs. Janice Singh, who wrote the Secondary Level Sikh Social Studies Unit Teacher’s Resource Guide with special assistance from Rabindra Paul Singh, gave a spirited presentation of the vision behind the Unit and the need to sustain its outreach to schools across the country. Ms. Jessi Kaur, Kaur Foundation Board member from California, and Mr. Mandeep Bawa from the Washington, D.C. area served as Masters of Ceremonies.
The children also were given a special spotlight: Sajjan, Jeevan, and Kiran Bawa gave an instrumental rendition of a Sikh hymn at the opening of the evening’s program. A group of nine young girls offered statements about the importance of having the Sikh Social Studies Program taught in their schools as a means to dispel ignorance about Sikhs, their culture, and community, bring pride and confidence about the rich diversity in schools today, and to remedy the sometimes less than friendly environment in the classrooms.
Many guests were dressed in brocaded silks and elegant Punjabi dresses and the colorful Phulkaris, the traditional and typical folk art of the Punjab, graced several walls. Philanthropy was encouraged through silent and live auction items of art and jewelry. The formal presentations ended with a delicious Punjabi dinner and the singing and music of the featured artist, Jeffrey Iqbal followed.
BUILDING MOMENTUM FOR THE TASK AHEAD
Loyal supporters and benefactors contributed their talents and resources to this event. The struggle to sustain these worthy and deserving efforts continues due to lack of major public and private funding. City, state, and national endorsement and support of special programs that can greatly benefit Americans in being citizens of an ever-changing and interdependent world is slow in coming. The urgency to develop funding and support for much-needed initiatives should be a vital national concern.
Ethnic communities are gradually learning the intricacies of working with the systems in place. We have to vigorously pursue ideas that give Sikh American children a competitive edge to excel and serve the Nation and the world with their gifts and potential. That means removing all obstacles and disadvantages that hold them back from being the best that they can be. In solidarity, when possible and alone when necessary, we have to explore and develop imaginative programs that significantly advance the energies and dreams of our communities, much like the generations of pioneers before us. We must endeavor to seek financial and philanthropic support from places and institutions that see legitimacy in our cause. The right vision, personal and collective commitment, media and visibility, and friends in the right places can greatly help.
Going forward, it is important to address reasonable concerns of ethnic communities in a responsible manner to keep America a welcoming destination for the brightest and the best from distant lands to share their experiences and heritage with other Americans. The convergence of new cultures in our midst holds an incredible promise and should be identified, strengthened, and celebrated, at many levels and in myriad ways.
Over the last five decades we have come a long way, and are today able to better define and claim our stake in the strengths, promise, and the future of America. We have to better translate our concerns, our hope and visions, and offer a more enlightened and united front to advance our goals. Once we are able to overcome distractions, divisive partisanship, and narrow attitudes that hinder our progress and accelerate our efforts to be an integral part of the fabric of America, we will find greater acceptance and appreciation of our presence and contributions to our communities.
The Sikh Diaspora must celebrate the recent unimagined milestones and laudable achievements in America and around the world in many fields and professions. We have been competing and excelling; we have been networking and finding new friends. We have been knocking on new doors for opportunities and recognition in the highest corridors of power across the Nation. We have to build upon this success and momentum; undreamed of promise lies ahead. We have much work to do to secure a rightful place for our cultural heritage and pioneering spirit that is an intrinsic part of who we are as a people.