‘Where are we going from here?’: Baraboo schools plan tolerance events after anti-Semitic incidents

Serve2Unite to speak at events
‘Where are we going from here?’: Baraboo schools plan tolerance events after anti-Semitic incidents

Community leaders and officials from the School District of Baraboo have a series of events planned for next week to help the community start to heal.

The Baraboo Police Department opened up a criminal investigation into two anti-Semitic incidents this week. This comes after the controversial prom photo circulated on social media of students appearing to perform a Hitler salute.

On Monday, students and community members will have an opportunity to hear from members of a nonprofit called Serve2Unite. The founders are Pardeep Singh Kaleka, whose father died in the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek in 2012, and former white supremacist Arno Michaelis.

“The reason this particular story is so critical is that people can see how these people hated each other first and then what happened in their lives that changed it,” Masood Akhtar said.

The Baraboo School District is excited to announce, in collaboration with community leaders, the first event in the Baraboo Acts series, Baraboo Acts: Serve2Unite. #TheGiftofOurWounds authors Pardeep Singh Kaleka & Arno Michaelis will speak on finding forgiveness after hate. pic.twitter.com/x9PdjWqe9k

— Baraboo Schools (@barabooSD) December 5, 2018

Akhtar, the founder of an advocacy group called We Are Many – United Against Hate, helped organize the “Baraboo Acts” program. After the prom photo circulated, he reached out to Baraboo school officials with the idea to bring Kaleka and Michaelis to Baraboo.

“This will be an opportunity for the community to share their thoughts and ideas, and at the same time, listen to this constant powerful message that it happened — but then how these guys became the best of friends to promote peace,” Akhtar said.

Kaleka and Michaelis will speak at the Al Ringling Theatre in Baraboo on Monday at 7:30 p.m. in an event that is free and open to the public.

The Baraboo School District will also have a Thunderbird Day of Peace on Tuesday that is exclusively for students. Kaleka and Michaelis will be the keynote speakers, and students will also hear presentations on civil rights, social media literacy, the history of anti-Semitism, diversity and restorative justice.

Flyers were posted Monday on the exterior of a Baraboo middle school appearing to warn people not to attend the events planned for next Tuesday. District officials said the threats are not credible, and the events will go on as planned.

Akhtar said he also would like the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to create an anti-hate task force for K-12 education, with Baraboo serving as the model.

“To me, I’m focusing less on what happened. I’m focusing more on, ‘OK, where are we going from here?'” Akhtar said.

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