Waking in Oak Creek | Not in Our Town

Waking in Oak Creek

Grade Level: 
Elementary (K-5)
Middle School (6-8)
High School (9-12)

Waking in Oak Creek: A Community Rocked by Hate is Awakened and Transformed

As the Sikh community in Oak Creek, Wisconsin prepares for Sunday prayers, a deadly hate attack shatters their lives, but not their resilience. After six worshipers are killed by a white supremacist, the local community finds inspiration in the Sikh tradition of forgiveness and faith. Lieutenant Murphy, shot 15 times in the attack, joins the mayor and police chief as they forge new bonds with the Sikh community. Young temple members, still grieving, emerge as leaders in the quest to end the violence. In the year following the tragedy, thousands gather for vigils and community events to honor the victims and seek connection. Together, a community rocked by hate is awakened and transformed by the Sikh spirit of relentless optimism.

* Request a free DVD classroom copy of the film by clicking here

Useful teaching strategies that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards:

  • Identify and define key vocabulary words: hate, intolerance, law enforcement, target, stereotype, upstander.
  • Have students do a "quick write": a short writing assignment on one or more of the questions.
  • Have students do an activity called "Think-Pair-Share," where they work with a partner to discuss questions.

1.  Prior to showing the video, briefly explain the primary themes of the video. Use some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt). Define upstanders (people who speak up and stand up for others), and discuss how everyone can learn to be an upstander.

  • Create a KWL chart (a chart that highlights what they know, want they want to know, and what they learned).

  • Ask students to share their knowledge of the Sikh religion and chart the information in the K section of the chart. Avoid singling out students who are from the Sikh religion.

  • Have students generate questions about what they want to learn and chart those questions in the W sections of the chart.

  • Have students read the following information about the Sikh religion. Have students add what they learned to the L section of the chart. Leave room for more additions after they view the film.

 Sikhism is the fifth largest of the world’s religions, practiced by about 25 million people worldwide. Sikhism developed in the Punjab region of India in the 15th Century.  Central tenets of the faith include belief in a single God and a dedication to equality and universal brotherhood. Sikhism rejects the caste system, which was part of traditional Indian culture. There are more than 500,000 Sikhs in the United States. Sikhs are often recognized by their turbans, which are worn by most men and some women as an article of faith. In the U.S., 99 percent of people who wear turbans are Sikhs. Sikhs have been a well-documented target of hate crimes and harassment in America, particularly since September 11, 2001. However, the Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has only recently begun distinguishing and tracking bias crimes against Sikhs as a separate category of hate crime thanks in large part to the lobbying efforts of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in the aftermath of the shootings.

The frequent targeting of Sikhs in hate crimes reflects the close relationship between ignorance and bigotry. Attacks on Sikhs appear to be related to their appearance. In addition to their distinctive turban, Sikh men wear a beard in accordance with the practice of their faith. To an ignorant few, Sikhs resemble a stereotype image of a “terrorist,” rendering them a target for abuse or even violence.

The Sikh faith places an emphasis on service to others. On the one-year anniversary of the shootings in Oak Creek, Sikh communities around the U.S. remembered the event with days of community service.

2. After watching the video, engage students in a dialogue about the film using some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt):

  • What actions were taken by the larger community that supported the members of the Sikh temple?

  • What did you learn about the Sikh faith and people? Is there anything in the film that helped you learn more about Sikh Americans?

  • What can law enforcement officials and municipal leaders do in the immediate aftermath of a hate crime to promote safety and a sense of security for a targeted community?

  • What examples have you experienced or seen of students being bullied or harassed because of their religious beliefs? Have you seen any examples of people being bullied because they have no religious beliefs?

  • An upstander is a person who speaks up and stands up for him or herself and others. How did the different people in the film take action? How were they upstanders?

3. Complete the L section of the chart by indicating what was learned. Look back at the questions in the W section to see if those questions were answered or if more information is needed.

Extension Activities

  • Encourage students and/or staff to identify attitudes and behaviors in the school that perpetuate negative stereotyping, as well as bigoted attitudes, bullying, and harassment of other students based on religion, gender, gender identity, race, and disability. Do a Think-Pair-Share and have students write about their conversations.

  • Have students in the class share about their religious backgrounds. If there are several students from a particular religion, they can work in small groups. Present their findings to the whole group.

  • Have the students work with partners to generate their own questions and do further research on hate crimes based on religion, race, and gender.

  • Have students view short Public Service Announcements by Sikh Youth and complete the NIOS Sikh Way of Life lesson plan

This lesson plan was developed by Becki Cohn-Vargas. The section about Sikhism was written by Paul Sheridan, former Deputy Attorney General, Civil Rights Division of the West Virginia Attorney General.

You can also use and print out this PDF version of the lesson plan, created by high school teacher and NIOS upstander Julie Mann.




Using the lesson plan with my eighth grade class.

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