The 2017 Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund National Gala was held Dec. 3 in Bethesda, Maryland. The sold-out event hosted 330 people from across the country, who came together to celebrate the evening’s theme, Strength in Diversity.
The gala featured inspiring speeches from Sikh community leaders and dignitaries, and as the evening unfolded, another theme emerged: conquering hate with love. Among the evening’s speakers were MarylandCongressman Jamie Raskin, entrepreneur Ash Singh, Khalsa Aid founder Ravi Singh, Washington’s Indian American state Senator Manka Kaur Dhingra, and SALDEF board members and SikhLEAD alumni. Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, was the special guest speaker.
“One of the key founding principles of this country, ‘e pluribus unum,’ which means ‘out of many, one’ is being undermined and devalued,” SALDEF chairman Manjit Singh said in his opening remarks. “The strength of our nation is in our diversity. The unique beliefs, values, and practices of our different races, ethnicities, and religions are the source of our nation’s strength.”
Congressman Raskin spoke about the first amendment and freedom of religion. “America is the success story of the world because we have opened ourselves up to everybody but don't let anybody dominate everybody else,” said Raskin.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh appeared via live video stream. “I am only here today because others choose to break barriers,” he said. “I hope to be a part of the voice fighting against this rise of hate by promoting love and courage.”
Dhingra, the first Sikh American to be elected to a state legislature, spoke on her decision to run and what helped her win. Noting the importance of positivity in combating hate, Dhingra said, “When we are attacked with fear, divisiveness and dishonesty; we respond with love. We respond with integrity, honesty and a commitment to solving real problems together.”
Ravi Singh, founder of the U.K.-based international Sikh humanitarian organization Khalsa Aid, received the Bhagat Singh Thind Community Empowerment Award for his leadership and embodiment of Seva, the Sikh value selfless service, and Sarbat da Bhalla, welfare of all. In his acceptance speech, he spoke about his work in Iraq with Yazidi women who had been held captive and enslaved by ISIS.
Ash Singh, creator of the Turbanizer mobile app, was the evening’s keynote speaker. Inspired by SALDEF’s Turban Myths reports, Singh developed the Turbanizer to demystify the Sikh turban. The app allows users to “turbanize” themselves by taking a selfie, to which they can then add a turban. Singh’s goal is to turbanize 100 million people within ten years.
Incoming SALDEF Board chair Kavneet Singh closed out the speeches with highlights of Sikh community progress in 2017. Singh also gave a call to action for the coming year. “Our mission for 2018 is developing leaders through our SikhLEAD program, ensuring Sikh Americans vote in record numbers during the 2018 election cycle, and we continue to shift the perception of Sikh Americans, making sure our neighbors know who we are. Guru Nanak Sahib led through love and taught us that once you show people who you are and what you believe in, nothing else needs to be done.”
Simran Singh (also known as Sammi Singh) and Harpreet Singh Dhami closed out the evening with incredible performances of traditional Punjabi music songs.