Fauja Singh – 100 years and runnin’

With Bhangras and Jakaras – our very own beloved Fauja Singh crossed the finish line to be the first 100 year old to complete a marathon – thus also setting a world record. Running in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, he may have been last in the pack – but he finished first in the hearts of all. Many of us were following our Torontonian brothers and sisters live tweet as #faujasingh as it began trending in Toronto and through all of Canada.

Here he is crossing the finishing line!

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Will the centenarian hang up his Adidas shoes now that he has set this record? HARDLY! Next up – for us Californians, we get the chance to meet him at the upcoming SikhLens Film Festival in Southern California from November 18-20, 2011. Then back to the world stage for Fauja Singh as he will be part of the torchbearer relay for the 2012 London Olympics. Keep on running Fauja! #faujafever

Sikh Identity: Separate but Equal?

Guest blogged by Birpal Kaur

Over this past weekend there was an article published in the Los Angeles Times of the experiences of Sikh women and maintaining kesh. This article addresses the journey and relationship with kesh, looking at societal pressures as well as a personal journey, and in this case, it happened to be my journey. The article idea was born out of a series of conversations I had with a reporter with the LA Times. I would also like to reiterate that this article is not about me as a representative of any Sikh organization I am part of.

Most of the feedback I have received has been complimentary, though some has been accusatory and judgmental. For all the commentary: Thank you for time, the words, and the emotionswhether I agree with it or not. My major concern, however, does not come from the extremely personal nature of the story you read, it comes from the fact that I felt misrepresented, and the issue highlighted was misrepresented. The last 48 hours or so I have been thinking about why, and that is what I would like to share.

My major concern is that the entire concept of hair removal is framed around men and marriage. This is problematic. Whereas the overall idea of double-standards concerning men and women is not a new oneI do not believe that there is only one person, or gender to blame. Perhaps it is what manifests as the topical problem, but the issues around hair removal and Sikh women are not, and should not be limited to this scope. My journey and struggles with my kesh seem to be conveniently minimized to be about men. The androcentric way that the issue of hair removal solely exists in a space with men and marriage is demeaning and incorrect as a reflection of my personal journey.

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This is what profiling looks like

It’s been quite a day here in New York City. I woke up at 3am this morning and arrived at Liberty Square at 4:00 to protect the Occupy Wall Street encampment from eviction. Sleep deprived but fired up, I joined with thousands of others who showed up to stand in solidarity with this growing movement for economic justice. Before I left my house, I wrote the phone number for the National Lawyers Guild on my arm with a Sharpie, preparing for a possible arrest.

I was planning on participating in civil disobedience this morning. I expected to sit down and lock arms with hundreds of others, forming a barrier around Liberty Square to keep park owner Brookfield’s sanitation crew, and the police, from entering the park and in effect, ending the occupation (occupation in this case being a good thing, for a change).

As many of you have probably heard by now, Brookfield Properties postponed its cleaning of the park at the last minute, and the Mayor instructed the NYPD to hold off in its plans to remove the protesters. We were thrilled, elated, victorious this morning. We held the park, and the occupation of Wall Street continues.

Several hours later after a long nap at home in Brooklyn, I rode my bike back into downtown Manhattan to meet up near the World Trade Center site with some family visiting from India (a few short blocks from where my day began at 4am). My family was running late, so I sat on the corner we decided to meet on, leaning against a fence. After about five minutes, two men wearing hoodies and jeans approached me. One of them unzipped his hoodie, revealing an NYPD badge.

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Sikh runner featured in NYC marathon: Cast your vote!

Following in the footsteps of great Sikh marathon runners like Fauja Singh, a young Sikh Ph.D. student named Simran Singh is currently training to run the largest marathon in the world — the New York City Marathon. And he’s running for a good cause. Simran is working with Team in Training and raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This is probably blogworthy in and of itself, but here’s what is extra exciting: Simran was selected by the NYC Marathon as one of just six featured runners this year!

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Simran is already representing our community well in the public spotlight as one of the featured runners, but we can all help him get selected as the grand prize winner, meaning more positive representation and mainstream media attention for a turban-wearing Sikh. Hopefully Simran’s presence will help break down stereotypes and barriers (not to mention support cancer research).

Here’s what we can do to support Simran: Go to the ING Featured Runner’s Page, click “View Featured Runners,” and then you can vote for Simran once a day until the contest ends on November 4th. The runner with the most votes wins.

Good luck Simran!

DAY OF ACTION – In Sacramento THIS Sunday


The tragic murder of two of our grandfathers – S. Gurmej Singh Atwal and S. Surinder Singh – in Elk Grove earlier this year, shocked both the Sikh and local communities. The murderers still roam free.

This Sunday, if you are in the Sacramento area, or if you can reach there, please come and stand with your community on this ‘Day of Action.’ We are calling for justice, not vengeance. We are here to remind the world that we have not forgotten these two men and that we want the perpetrators apprehended.

The schedule reads as follows:


Day of Action

Help Find The Criminals That Murdered Surinder Singh and Gurmej Singh Atwal

Join us in Elk Grove as we blanket the city, contacting local businesses and posting reward bulletins.

Tentative Schedule:

9:45am — Gather at the EG Park & Ride near the site of the murders

10:30am — Volunteers go to assigned areas to request that local businesses put up a flyer re EG Shooting Deaths

12:30pm — Return to Park&Ride for debriefing and Ardaas

12:45pm — Langar

Intersection of East Stockton Boulevard at Geneva Point DriveElk Grove, CA 95624

You can find more information on the Facebook event page. Stand with your community. Stand together. Stand on this ‘day of action.’

Reflecting on a SAFAR

SAFAR.jpgThis post is a bit late, but every bit still important. Last week, the first Sikh Feminist conference SAFAR was held at the University of Toronto. The conference brought together academics, activists, and community members to reflect on the meanings and experiences of gender in a Sikh context. Opening with a keynote address by Nikky Guninder Kaur Singh, esteemed Professor at Colby College, the conference featured over 30 presentations. From the Param Marg Granth to questions of translation; from the Rahit Maryada to questions of film; from a historic opening for queer identities to questions on sex-selective abortion; from a discussion of womens perceptions of body hair to even the questioning of questions, the conference can only be described as timely, pressing, and historic.

Some left in awe; some left troubled; some left challenged; some left with catharsis. All left inspired. To continue the momentum from the conference, the hosts of the conference, the Sikh Feminist Research Institute, is planning to convene a peer-reviewed online journal to publish quality articles related to gender.

Pictures from the conference can do far more justice than any thing I will write here. If you attended, share your thoughts and reflections. If you didn’t attend, you missed out!

We, here, at The Langar Hall will keep you informed about future developments.

Confusion to Solution: Educating Children about the Sikh Identity

Guest blogged by Navjot Kaur

Usually, I can take quite a lot before something unsettles me. Today, my pressure cooker was whistling.

When you think things cant get much worse, they have a way of doing just that. When it rains, it pours, right? As I went to pick up my son at the end of his second day in Kindergarten, he appeared at the exit door with his patka almost off his head. I thought to myself, they probably had Gym class. But that wasnt the case. I was quickly informed that another Kindergartener had pulled my sons patka off his head while he sat on the carpet. I almost cried but didnt. I felt angry but held it together for my sons sake. I questioned whether it had been an action of curiosity? I hoped that the response would be positive but it was not. Bullying, in Kindergarten.

sp_banner.jpgYes, my son looks different in many ways. He has his visible faith-identity and he also has his deaf identity. Hes smaller than his peers and he has some special challenges but his personality is like the sunshine. Its rays can trickle into even the darkest cracks and brighten up your day. I would not allow this incident to darken his future school days.

We came home and once we had cuddled, I reassured him when he asked, You’re going to tell [boys name] to say sorry to me? I went into another room and cried. Im not sure why I felt so defeated for that tiny moment but I did. Nevertheless, after talking to my sister, who works for a non-profit organization lobbying for change on such issues, I gained my strength and prepared next steps.

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Sikholars 2012 Call For Papers

cfp.jpgFor the past two years, the Jakara Movement has created a forum for budding scholars and researchers, working on various projects Sikh, to come together, share, and challenge each one another.

Over this period, it has become an extremely popular venue for community members, activists, and researchers to come together to engage on relevant issues. From Khalistan to Unix Coding, from sex-selective abortion to diasporic literature, from Nihangs in the court of Ranjit Singh to the historiography of Sikh studies, from Sikh sculpture and architecture to representations of masculinity in Punjabi films, from ecology of pre-Green Revolution Punjab to excerpts from a new book on Sikhs in Surrey to an amazing thabla-jazz infusion display, to even previews of newly-released movies with Sikh themes there will be something that captivates and challenges you over the weekend. Please see previous abstracts from conferences 2010 and 2011 for more details.


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Afghanistan: 10 years of war, 10 years of occupation

Occupation has come to carry a different connotation of late as the #OccupyWallStreet movement quickly spreads throughout the country. But for millions in Afghanistan it still means U.S. militarism. It still means war. It still means injustice. Today marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, originally deemed “Operation Enduring Freedom” by then president George W Bush.

Based on my mother’s last name, I know I have roots in Afghanistan, as do many of us Sikhs. Hundreds of thousands of our Afghan sisters and brothers have lost their lives in this war, which has escalated under the Obama Administration. Rather than making my arguments for a complete and immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country, I am instead posting this message from human rights activist and former Afghan MP Malalai Joya on the 10th anniversary of this seemingly endless war.

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Wall Street Sikhs, Corporate Tyranny, and the 99%

By now I imagine most of you have heard about Occupy Wall Street in New York City and the growing “Occupy” movement all over the country. Inspired by the mass uprisings of the Arab Spring, the movement is uniting under the banner, “We are the 99%”, in its protest of unprecedented economic inequality and Wall Street and corporate power and influence in the United States.

The official declaration of #OccupyWallStreet, released last week (as a working document), states:

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human racerequires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, andupon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights,and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power fromthe people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people andthe Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined byeconomic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit overpeople, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. Wehave peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

The mainstream media coverage of the protest, now in its 18th consecutive day, has largely downplayed its significance or remained silent all together. Some in the movement, thus, raised $12,000 on Kickstarter in 3 days (now over $40K) and published 50,000 copies of the “Occupied Wall Street Journal,” grassroots media at its best. This says a lot about what is going on at Liberty Square (what protesters call the park they are occupying). People, many with little background in activism, are taking matters into their own hands, and building a democratic movement against corporate tyranny.

I have been participating in the growing protests regularly for the last week, and generally feel inspired and hopeful about what is happening in downtown Manhattan, despite some frustrations, some of which Sepia Mutiny just blogged about today. My time at Liberty Square–sometimes spent attending the nightly General Assemblies (where decisions are made by consensus, not unlike the Sikh Sarbat Khalsa process), sometimes participating in marches, sometimes playing a musical instrument–leaves me thinking about how this movement relates to Sikhs and Sikhi.

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Fighting for our right to oppress: Gays, Sikhs & the Military

Last week the US military officially ended Dont Ask Dont Tell (DADT) after President Obama signed a repeal of the 18-year-old anti-gay policy last December. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members (note the absence of transgender people, who are still not allowed to serve openly) and advocates of gay rights have been celebrating the repeal as a civil rights victory.

The day the repeal went into effect, President Obama stated:

Patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love. Our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members. And today, as Commander in Chief, I want those who were discharged under this law to know that your country deeply values your service.

Captain Tejdeep Rattan at his graduation from the US Army basic training

This issue hits close to home for the US Sikh community, since the Pentagons uniform policy has not allowed Sikhs to serve with their kesh and dastaar since 1981. Similar to DADT, this is blatant discrimination and is an unacceptable policy for any employer, especially the federal government, which sets a powerful precedent for the rest of society.

Just as rights advocates have been fighting to end DADT for years (and finally succeeded), Sikhs launched a Right to Serve campaign in 2009, led by the Sikh Coalition and a Sikh doctor and dentist who were told by the Army to cut their hair when they report for basic training. The impressive efforts of Sikh cadets fighting for their rights and the tireless work of their advocates have resulted in the Army granting accommodations to three Sikhs, who are now serving with their turbans and unshorn hair in tact. The overall policy of the military nevertheless remains discriminatory.

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Shield of Faith Movie

While Breakaway/SpeedySinghs seems to be the talk of the town, earlier this week, a friend (pagh salute: download!) pointed this new movie to me. It seems it is still in production and is a labor of love for Sikh-Australian, Rupinder Singh. On the internet there are few details about the movie.

Here is their description:

Visionary film by Rupinder Singh creating an original epic docu-feature based on some prominent events in Sikh history. The film takes the audiences to a thrilling journey where they learn about the difficult time on the Sikh community and about how they still came out victorious in spite of being tested by the time.

Labeled as a “docu-drama” the breath-taking views and professional camera pans seem like a quality production. Although I have some reservations with the period costumes, despite claims on the website for a “special emphasis” [note the contemporary Nihang weaponry and costume and contrast with the historical reconstruction – though it has been alleged to be Afghan – at the London exhibit], I will definitely go out and watch it. In fact, I just made a contribution!

Make a contribution, “like” their facebook page, check out their website, or just watch their trailer.

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2011 SGPC Election (Mis)Results

The results are in and much to no ones surprise Badal and his cronies won.

If you ran against the don, hesent his goons.

If your supporters were going to come out and vote, they captured the booth and made sure your supporters were turned away.

If they thought it was going to be close they stuffed ballots and created Sikhs (man-pagh, pagh-man, voila! Sikh or at least one that was eligible to vote).

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If they thought you even had a chance to win, they shot off a couple of rounds in the air and had the balloting canceled and postponed.

The worst part was this happened in full view of the media and in front of the world. Are we that apathetic?

This is how the Panths resources are kept safe to line Badal and his cronies pockets. Only the Government of India (GOI) can call for the elections and only the GOI’s police can make sure they are “secure” and “safe” (for Badal to win). This is how we are kept enslaved.

Sikh Women: Making History

Each year, SikhNet hosts an online youth film festival – to cultivate interest from Sikh filmmakers from around the globe. The online film festival is an excellent way for individuals to dialogue about issues affecting us personally and as a community. One of the films, titled Khalsa Has No Gender, is made by a group of young teen-aged Sikh women living in England and the goal of the film is to address gender [in]equality within our community. The film was striking to me for several reasons. Firstly, that these young women chose to use the medium of film to discuss this very important issue and secondly, that the concept of gender discrimination and inequality is prevalent in the conscience of very young Sikhs – Sikhs who are perhaps even 3rd and 4th generational living in the disapora.

305476_10150286660628170_515193169_7933261_1234383439_n.jpgWhile on one hand it’s disheartening to acknowledge that perhaps change is slower than we have hoped it to be (displayed by the film), there is – on the other hand – reason to be optimistic. In just over a week, scholars and community members from across the globe are gathering in Toronto for the very first Sikh Feminist Conference, “Our Journeys”, hosted by the Sikh Feminist Research Institute (SAFAR).

[Our Journeys is] an opportunity for scholars and community members alike to openly connect, converse and engage in a dialogue and critical thinking about gender related issues that demand to be voiced, and heard, in order to be addressed.

The line up of topics and speakers is remarkable. The keynote speaker, Professor Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh is well known for introducing the term Sikh feminism and will share a Panel with Geetanjali Singh Chanda and Mallika Kaur toexplore how Sikh feminism is defined, its origins, the present-day reality and how it can be an impetus for social change.

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Updated: Because it’s a matter of life and death

UPDATED ON 9/22/11 at 11:00am (after the fold)

On Wednesday, September 21st at 7pm, the state of Georgia plans to end the life of Troy Davis. Davis’s only hope at this point may be if prison staff refuse to carry out the execution, if they courageously stand up for what is right, rather than blindly follow orders. He has stated many times, They can take my body but not my spirit, because I have given my spirit to God.

No, Troy Davis is not a Sikh nor does he or his case have any direct connection to the Sikh community. But I am writing this tonight, after his final attempt for clemency denied by the state, to ask you to keep Troy Davis in your thoughts and prayers and to take action in whatever way you see fit. You can immediately sign this petition, you can call or emailJudge Penny Freesemann at 912-652-7252/[email protected] and urge the halt of the execution, you can attend a local rally, you can include Troy in your ardas.


Because since Davis’s conviction for the murder of a police officer in 1989, seven of the nine witnesses that testified against him have recanted their testimonies.

Because no murder weapon was ever found, and no DNA evidence exists connecting Davis to the crime.

Because some witnesses say another man committed the crime, a witness who testified against Davis.

Because many witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying against Troy Davis.

Because Troy Davis is a 42-year-old man who should have many more years to live on this planet.

Because as Sikhs, it is our duty to stand up for what is right. The planned execution of Davis is a tragic symptom of a broken and inhumane criminal justice system (which I’ve discussed before here and here). This is a Sikh issue. Indeed, Harinder Singh of the Sikh Research institute states,

As a Sikh, I must fight for criminal justice reforms, as the founders of my faith set the precedent when confronting the Mughal dynasty in South Asia. Guru Nanak confronted Emperor Babar over mass incarcerations, and Guru Hargobind championed prisoners rights by challenging Emperor Jahangir; both Gurus, founders of Sikhi, were imprisoned for doing so.

What are we willing to do for Troy Davis and the Troy Davises of the world?

It’s a matter of life and death.

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Nishaan – The Sikh Society Network

Guest blogged byNaujawani Sardar

321314_116006055172592_115613338545197_82003_1811328298_n.jpgThere has been a lot of talk about the SGPC elections recently, even over on our blog. And it got me thinking about a whole range of things from ‘selection vs. election’ to Sikh bodies outside of Punjab. My life in Sikh circles has been positively fascinating for over two decades now, but one of the things I have found most difficult to deal with has been the tension that arises around Sikh representative bodies. Before you stop reading, I’m not going to write about the SGPC – although what I’m writing about could quite easily fit the world of any organisation that represents Sikhs, and specifically those who have had to face false accusations.

“Nishaan is a new organisation consisting of university Sikh Societies across London and the South East of England. It is created on the principle of for the students by the students.”

That is taken directly from the biography of ‘Nishaan‘ – a body of university students at institutions in London who have been collaborating and working closely together for the last year. In actual fact some amongst this group of students and this movement itself began in earnest four years ago when one particular University Sikh society at Imperial College London established an annual meal and gathering of Sikh socs from around the capital; they called the event ‘Collaborations’. Following that, students looked to ‘collaborate’ more often, but in reality it didn’t work efficiently because communication was poor, organisation was overly dependent on single individuals and the age-old division of jatha-affiliation reared its head.

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UPDATED: Darbar Sahib Exhibit in London

For Update – see bottom of postarmor.jpg

Although far from my home (hopefully @blighty and @joo kay singh can share), is an intriguing exhibit celebrating our beloved Darbar Sahib (erroneously called the Golden Temple) at Amritsar.

Nearly 80 artefacts from the past 200 years have been collected for this exhibit on display in central London. Most of the items are said to be from private collections and this will be the first time they have been publicly displayed. The entire exhibit is being organized by the UK Punjab Heritage Association and there is indication that it may travel.

Until then, enjoy the art through this BBC Video on the exhibit (unfortunately the BBC does not allow you to embed, so you’ll have to follow the link).

In conjunction, it seems Sathnam Sanghera of A Boy With a Top Knotfame will be chairing a panel at the upcoming DSC South Asian Literature Festival (Oct 7-24) titled: The Golden Temple of Amritsar: Reflections of the Paston October 14. The panel will highlight the Muslim rababi tradition of kirtan from one of the descendants of Bhai Mardana – Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand. Unfortunately, it will also feature that most media-astute of the neo-Nihangs and pedlar of neo-Sanatan nonsense – Nidar Singh – who now claims himself to be the “Last Sikh Warrior” (I wonder if he could take on Tom Cruise, who we all know is the Last Samurai). Regardless, the event is free and definitely worth a visit.

Our UK readers, let us know your thoughts!


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Why September 11 Didnt Matter – part 1

sikh_holding_flags.jpgI waited a few days. The title may be sacrilegious, but bear with me and let me explain.

Undoubtedly, for the lives lost in the World Trade Center, for victims such as Balbir Singh Sodhi, for the innocents and collateral damage dehumanized and murdered in the hundreds of thousands (and rising) in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the regime that invokes the War on Terror that has led to unethical detention, the promotion of anti-humanist values such as torture (whether conducted in the US or contracted out to other governments), the erosion of that most American of constitutional values (i.e. civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights) September 11, 2011 mattered and will continue to matter. Although, some analysts are even now wondering if it will matter to the future of America.

What I am writing about are the experiences of a Sikh-American.

The narrative in our community goes as following. The world changed on September 11, 2011 (again, that most American quality – to believe that the world changed for an event that only occurred in the US). Then, we as Sikhs were attacked twice double victims, because as one Sikh civil rights group, SALDEF, writes [first we were attacked] as Americans and again by those who wished to divide our country based on religion and ethnicity.

I understand the storyline and it makes sense. But there is something that rankles me here. It is the arrogance of the younger generation.

I write this to try to bring out the actual continuities of the Sikh-American experience and why with a proper scope beyond now-ism, we can see that while an exacerbation may have occurred, much still remained the same.

I focus on the two most important continuities, despite claims of revolution hate-influenced violence and our institutions.

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Democracy Now Features Sikh Voices

The daily news program Democracy Now has long been a trusted source of information and analysis for progressives in the US and around the world. Their coverage of the attacks of 9/11/01 and the aftermath has been crucial for so many of us. You can check out an impressive and thorough timeline of their post-9/11 coverage here.

On today’s broadcast, Democracy Now correspondent Jaisal Noor highlighted the plight of the Sikh American community after 9/11, which you can see below.

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Amplifying the Unheard Voices of 9/11

Today, I want to highlight an important initiative that amplifies the unheard, and often undocumented, stories of post-9/11 bigotry, harassment, and discrimination. Launched last week by the Sikh Coalition and co-sponsored by a host of organizations including the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), Muslim Advocates, CAIR-California, and more, Unheard Voices of 9/11 is an interactive website that allows users to upload homemade videos of themselves sharing their experience(s) of post-9/11 injustice.

The site, which has been generating a lot of media attention in the last few days, states:

Members of the Muslim, Sikh, South Asian, and Arab American communities were twice victims of 9/11. Like all Americans we endured a horrific attack on our country by terrorists. We also continue to endure troubling attacks from fellow Americans in the form of hate crimes, employment discrimination, school bullying, profiling and other forms of discrimination.

These stories of discrimination have largely been unheard. This website is meant to give these unheard voices a voice. These are the stories of our community members unfiltered, in their own words. These are the unheard voices of 9/11.

As we are inundated with news about the tenth anniversary of 9/11 this week, it’s refreshing to see a powerful initiative like this one focusing on sharing our stories. It is a courageous, and often painful, act to tell one’s story. But it is necessary, both for the healing process of someone who has experienced injustice, and also for everyone who hears that story, reflects upon it, learns from it, and is moved by it.

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