Interfaith Youth Core Screens Waking in Oak Creek at IMPACT Conference | Not in Our Town

Interfaith Youth Core Screens Waking in Oak Creek at IMPACT Conference

This blogpost is repulished with permission from the Interfaith Youth Core.

By Tahil Sharma


What does it mean to be an upstander, not a bystander? This is a question IFYC staffer Julia Smith and I asked conference attendees during our workshop at the IMPACT Conference in February.

During the workshop, Julia and I screened the 30-minute documentary Waking in Oak Creek, created by Not in Our Town and the U.S. Department of Justice following the tragic gurdwara attack in a Sikh community on August 5th, 2012. The documentary discusses the idea of being an upstander: someone who actively seeks to change discourse around religion being harmful, instead of a bystander who watches these conversations happen without trying to change attitudes around religious difference. The documentary highlights the love and grace displayed by Sikh victims’ families and friends in the face of the attacker’s violent acts of hate.

Waking in Oak Creek introduces several upstanders: Sikh gurdwara members, police, and nearby Christian congregations who took action in the face of tragedy and injustice. Those who attended our workshop were especially moved by Lieutenant Brian Murphy’s story. After surviving being shot 15 times by the gunman, Lieutenant Murphy became an advocate of interfaith understanding between community members and the Oak Creek Police Department.

While we were preparing to lead the workshop session, Julia asked me to think of a specific time I chose to be an upstander. I thought back to the moment I found out that the Oak Creek shooting happened. I was in India visiting family at the time, and recalled the hardship and misunderstanding I saw my mother (a Sikh) and my father (a Hindu) faced when I was a child. In that moment, I was inspired by the community of Sikhs in the Oak Creek community, who decided to follow the principles of Guru Nanak, the first of the Sikh gurus: eternal devotion, service to the meek, and a life dedicated to truth. Watching how the Oak Creek community responded to the shooting turned my fears into motivation to be an upstander. It became my duty to stand up against the wrongdoings and to foster positive change. It was the culmination of history and the relentless optimism, or chardi kala in my tradition, that led me to educate, engage, and serve many communities just as the people of Oak Creek did. When I got back to my campus, I decided to educate others about my religious beliefs and train others on campus to do the same.

As I think about tragedies that shake a community the way the Oak Creek shooting did, I realize that being an upstander is more important than ever. Luckily, we have local interfaith councils and communities that do grassroots work. We have organizations like the Parliament of the World’s Religions, IMPACT, Not in Our Town, and South Asian Americans Leading Together that set the stage for national and international movement-building. My privilege to give my time to these organizations allows me to renew my strength and inspiration to change the world. The more we gather together in spaces like these and participate in events like IFYC’s Better Together Day, the more opportunities we have to learn about perspectives and experiences different from our own, and to equip ourselves to be upstanders when it's needed the most.

Tahil is a third year student at the University of La Verne, in California, majoring in Foreign Languages and minoring in International Studies. He comes from an inter-religious, Hindu and Sikh family being raised both in India and the United States. He grew up in Delhi and Punjab, as well as in Los Angeles and Pomona. He enjoys doing volunteer work, spending time with family and friends, and learning more about the languages, cultures, and faith traditions from around the world. Tahil is fluent in Spanish, Hindi-Urdu, and Punjabi, and is trying to learn Japanese, Korean, and Arabic. He plans to work as a translator and interpreter, along with going to graduate school, hoping to work for the CIA, United Nations, and other such important hubs of International Relations. He serves as Co-President of the International Student Organization, Secretary for the Muslim Student Association and the Interfaith Student Council and the Muslim Student Association. Find the original post at

Add new comment