Dear Supporter Ji,
As a child growing up outside of Richmond, Virginia, I felt a tremendous sense of pride each November when my family came together to count our blessings with Ardaas before our Thanksgiving meal – a combination of turkey and stuffing side-by-side with dal, roti, and sabzi. This week remains an annual reminder of how compatible our faith and culture are with our American traditions and values.
However, I also recall the tremendous discrimination I battled as a young Sikh being raised in Virginia. While we gave presentations to our schools, churches, and local law enforcement, it felt like a drop in the bucket in the face of misunderstanding about the Sikh faith. Through high school, college and then on to the workplace, I constantly felt like I was in a race to inform and educate as many people as I could before something happened.
That something happened on September 11, 2001, and the sum of all of our fears jolted the Sikh American community in a way no one could have imagined. Violent hate crimes, profiling, and employment discrimination threatened our community at its core.
I was working in Washington, DC, and experienced first-hand the future that lay ahead - I was driven off the road as I passed the Pentagon on the evening of 9/11 and had a table flipped onto my lap at a local restaurant a few weeks later. I refused to break, and I watched our community echo that sentiment in the dark days that followed.
Instead, the Sikh Coalition was born, drawing its strength directly from the community to fill the void and provide the resources and national voice that we so desperately needed. I was fortunate enough to join the Sikh Coalition in its early days, when our lives were forever changed. As volunteers, we worked from our cars and apartments, walked the halls of Congress, and spoke to anyone who would give us the time to listen. Through those crucial early years, we eventually began to see the changing tide; however, as the tragic events in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and the string of violent hates crimes in New York City this past summer remind us, our work is far from done.
The Sikh Coalition has grown into the largest Sikh advocacy organization in the country. With 16 staff, including six attorneys, there is no other organization that is better equipped to respond to the pressing needs of our community. This includes building robust partnerships with leading civil rights organizations and legal advocates so that when we respond, the Sikh Coalition's “voice of a people” is even further amplified by non-Sikhs standing hand-in-hand with our community.
To that end, as a partner at the international law firm, McDermott Will & Emery LLP, I have had the privilege to provide pro bono legal support to the Sikh Coalition on numerous issues affecting our community. From TSA profiling and hate crimes, to meeting the education needs of our children, to partnering with the Sikh Coalition in the employment struggle of our generation – to end the presumptive ban on Sikhs serving in the U.S. military – it’s an honor for our firm to work with the Sikh Coalition.
While our partnership has led to historic religious accommodations for Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, and Corporal Simran Preet Singh Lamba, the lawsuit filed last month by Iknoor Singh reasserts the need for us to amplify our efforts. We have worked so hard on this issue because it represents the umbrella of employment discrimination that pervades every workplace in America: if the U.S. military doesn’t allow uncut hair, beards, or turbans, what incentive does the average employer have? This is a legal battle worth fighting today, and for as long as it takes, for you and the generations of American Sikhs to follow.
Over the past eight years, 25 McDermott attorneys have contributed thousands of hours to the Sikh Coalition – representing an in-kind contribution that fast approaches one million dollars in pro bono legal services. McDermott does this work because the quality of the Sikh Coalition’s landmark cases and the professionalism of its staff put the Sikh Coalition on par with the best of the social justice organizations in the world.
The Sikh Coalition needs your support as they work to meet their own one million dollar fundraising goal by the end of the year. As the victories get bigger the fights get bigger too. McDermott and I stand with the Sikh Coalition moving forward, but we need your support. As you think back to the blessings that you celebrated at Thanksgiving, please include the Sikh Coalition on that list. Your financial support is critical to our continued efforts to change the world.
Amandeep Singh Sidhu
Partner, McDermott Will & Emery LLP
Sikh Coalition Co-Founder
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