SALDEF 2010 National Gala – Honoring Civic Leaders and Sikh Advocates

November 22nd, 2010

A Night of Culture, Celebration, and Achievement

View Gala Slide Show Here

On October 16th, 2010 the Sikh American Legal Defense Education Fund (SALDEF) held its National Gala in Washington, D.C. Joined by over 250 guests, government officials, awardees and supporters from across the country, the event highlighted SALDEF’s accomplishments and recognized those who have contributed to the Sikh American community’s progress and strengthened civil rights in the United States.

The keynote speaker at this year’s Gala was US Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez. Mr. Perez was unable to attend due to a family emergency, however his remarks were delivered by Samuel Bagenstos, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for civil rights. In his remarks, Mr. Perez stated, “The Sikh commitment to social justice, an integral part of your faith, should be a lesson to all Americans.” Additional speakers at the Gala included Paul Monteiro from the White House’s Office of Public Engagement and Margo Schlanger, Head of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

At the Gala, SALDEF announced a unique collaborative partnership with the D.C.-based Kaur Foundation to combat school bullying. SALDEF’s Chairman Manjit Singh announced the new School Outreach initiative in his address to the evening Gala. “A lack of awareness and familiarity about Sikhs is the root cause of the bullying and harassment that Sikh children face in the American schools today. The only way to stem this epidemic for Sikh children is to teach about Sikhs in school social studies and world religion classes. We are pleased to partner with Kaur Foundation for their proven program and exceptional materials to launch this initiative and bring awareness about Sikhs to public schools across the country,” said Singh.

Jasjit Singh, SALDEF Associate Executive Director, presented a summary of the year’s challenges and victories.  “Not since immediately after 9/11 has our community faced so many challenges – school bullying, racial profiling, hate crimes, employment discrimination to name a few.” Despite these obstacles, he highlighted signs of progress for the community and recent SALDEF campaigns, including reversing an 87-year old ban on religious garb in Oregon public schools, driver’s license photograph issues, training law enforcement, holding public officials accountable and SALDEF’s continued efforts to monitor the media.

SALDEF Board Members and Awardees

Wade Henderson receiving the Dorothy Height Coalition Building                                  Award

Pictured Above (left to right): Chairman Manjit Singh and Awardee Wade Henderson, Matharu Family and Board Member Kavneet Singh, Board Member Mirin Kaur and Awardee KP Singh, Awardees Ravitej and Navneet Kaur with Board Member Harminder Singh.

SALDEF recognized Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCR), the nation’s premier civil rights coalition, with the Dorothy Height Coalition Building Award. Mr. Henderson reflected on SALDEF’s contribution to the post-9/11 era, “In the fourteen years that you’ve been in existence, SALDEF has made a huge difference. It takes the hottest fire to make the strongest steel. You are stronger today because you have responded [to 9/11 backlash] in a direct and forthright way.”

The Dalip Singh Saund Legislative Leadership Award was accepted in absentia by Oregon Speaker of the House Dave Hunt. In his remarks delivered via video, Hunt emphasized the integral role that SALDEF played in repealing the 87 year old law that prevented Sikhs from teaching in Oregon’s public schools. “SALDEF and the Sikh American community has been right at the center of this from the start of this effort to repeal this law. You have helped send a very clear message to all Oregonians: the teachers in Oregon are going to be judged based on their ability to teach and not based on their religious faith. You have sent a very clear signal that religious and racial bigotry is no longer welcome in Oregon.”

SALDEF’s 2010 Public Service Award was presented to Ravitej Singh Khalsa and Saba Ahmed for their extraordinary work on the Oregon campaign against the ban on religious garb in public classrooms.  Navneet Kaur, who was also actively involved in the campaign, accepted the award on behalf of Ms. Ahmed.

The Bhagat Singh Thind Community Empowerment Award recognized K.P. Singh for his embodiment of seva (selfless service) in serving as a Sikh Ambassador within the Pan-Asian communities. The Youth Leadership Award proved to be an emotional celebration of the work and life of Ajeet Singh Matharu, who passed away earlier this year.

Surjit Singh Saund, a Sikh American from North Carolina, shared his personal experience challenging employment discrimination. SALDEF assisted Mr. Saund in finding pro bono counsel that filed a suit against the company for their alleged discrimination. Mr. Saund highlighted the employment related challenges the community continues to face and urged community members to fight such practices.

Entertainment for the evening included a memorable performance by The Tabla Guy, which incorporated modern techno beats and classical Indian drums, and a high-energy performance by the George Mason Bhangra Team.

Speakers at the Gala

Pictured Above (left to right): Samuel Bagenstos – Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Surjit Singh Saund, Margo Schlanger – DHS office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Paul Montiero – White House Office of Public Engagement.

Guests came together and donated to help SALDEF continue reaching out to communities, schools, houses of worship and civic leaders nationwide to raise awareness about Sikh Americans, speak out against bullying and protect the Sikh identity.

If you weren’t able to join SALDEF at the National Gala, please join us today by making a tax-deductible donation.

SALDEF thanks the event sponsors for their generous support, as well as the local volunteers, whose dedicated work ensured the success of this event.

View Gala Slide Show Here

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