I had the incredible experience of hearing a former racist skinhead and a Sikh man share the same stage. They told their amazing story of how they met and became friends. They are now as close as brothers.


The Veninga Lecture (September 23 at Wausau East High School) featured Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka tell their stories.


Arno was a leader of a worldwide racist skinhead organization in the late 1980s and early 1990s the group that produced the shooter at the August 5, 2012 shooting at Oak Creek Sikh Temple.


Arno turned his life around when he became the single parent of his 18-month-old daughter. The other motive was the kindness that people showed him. They kept giving him another chance.


Pardeep Singh Kaleka lost his father in the mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek. In the midst of his grief, Kaleka reached out to Michaelis to try to understand the mindset of the white supremacist who had taken the life of his father and five others.


Arno and Pardeep formed a strong bond, creating Serve 2 Unite, an organization aimed at diverting young people from extremist ideologies, gun violence, substance abuse and other forms of self-harm.


Pardeep with his parents and sister migrated to Milwaukee in 1982 to make a better life for themselves. His father had been a farmer in the Punjab region of India. In Milwaukee he worked in a gas station. By the end of his life, he owned several gas stations.


Pardeep said that his parents migrated to the US in search of a better life. Once they arrived, their goal was to make the most of their opportunities and to give back to their community.


Arno was born in the Milwaukee area and was handed the American Dream on a platter. He shunned that platter. He was a bully and kept needing more and more anti-social behavior to satisfy his bullying. He joined a White Supremacist group, formed a band and performed music promoting white supremacy.


Arno was miserable from ages 17 to 23, the time of his White Supremacy. He knew he was doing wrong and attempted suicide two times. He said, “Hate makes you dismal.”


However, the people at his workplace treated him kindly and gave him a second chance. They defied him with compassion.


After the shooting on August 5, 2012 in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which took the life of six people, including Pardeep’s father, Pardeep said he couldn’t stay sad. He was really exhausted. He wanted an explanation for the shooting.


So he found Arno on the internet and they began e-mailing. They planned to meet at a Thai restaurant but were really scared at what might happen at that meeting. Neither knew what to expect! Imagine their courage!


They had a wonderful time together and connected in many ways. They realized they had more in common than in differences.


Their vocations now are to help people connect with each other. People are hungry for connection. We live in a rejectionist society where people hunger for a voice.


Their advice to a man who asked them how to respond to hate was: stay committed. Keep on loving. Get involved in groups that are working for empathy and community. Be firm and not mean.


You can read more of their story in their book THE GIFT OF OUR WOUNDS by Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka.


Learn more about their organization SERVE 2 UNITE online and on Facebook. You will be deeply inspired by their story of an impossible friendship. Forgiveness makes many things possible.