NewsPositively Milwaukee


Unlikely friends turn hate into hope

Posted at 11:09 AM, Aug 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-25 12:09:55-04

MILWAUKEE — It's one of the darkest days in U.S. history. A deadly shooting at a place of worship. Aug. 5, 2012.

Six people were gunned down at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek.

The gunman was white supremacist Wade Michael Page. Wade was a member of the hate group founded by Arno Michaelis. One of the victims was Pardeep Kaleka's father, Satant Singh Kaleka. Kaleka founded the temple which had grown from just a handful of members.

"When he passed there were thousands of families. He died protecting the congregation that he helped to build," Kaleka said. "The last day that I saw my father was my birthday, he was sixty-five."

But out of a story of hate, a tale of love and brotherhood between two unlikely friends.

We returned to their original meeting place EE-Sane. It's a Thai restaurant on Milwaukee's Eastside. Kaleka contacted Michaelis wanting insight into what caused such deep hate. Kaleka admits he almost bailed.

"So, I'm outside and I'm watching Arno go in. I'm thinking I should just leave. I could make an excuse and tell him the kids got sick or something like that," Kaleka said. "I put my foot on the brake and something told me you came here for a reason. You went this far now keep going forward."

Kaleka got to know the former white supremacist. The two became friends.

"Once we sat down and talked we realized this is my long lost brother. We're like family now. We're like family now," shares Kaleka.

Michaelis jokes, "The first time that we stayed together in the same hotel room he thought I was going to kill him in his sleep." They both laugh.

When the shootings happened, Michaelis had already left the hate group he formed. He changed the course of his life to promote peace and diversity.

That helped light the way for a bond to form between the two men. They shared family stories. Michaelis states, "My favorite is what your dad said when he cut his thumb off with a tractor....what did he say?"

Kaleka picks up the story, "This happened in India. He cut his thumb off and had just amputated the top and he's like, 'It's not big deal!'"

Michaelis admits he was an angry youth. He found a connection with a group that embraced chaos, violence, and hate. Today, he's a Buddhist promoting peace.

"I think the succinct definition of hate is a woeful denial of compassion," said Michaelis.

He believes trauma is the basis for most hate. The reformed white supremacist notes, "The simple answer is suffering. Fortunately, most of us have a healthy way to process the suffering we go through in life if you don't have a healthy way there are all sorts of unhealthy ways to process it, and violent extremism is an unhealthy way to reach out to people who are suffering."

Both men have a deeper understanding of what it takes to unite people. Together they have formed an organization called "Serve 2 Unite." They travel around the world promoting peace.

Michaelis adds, "Somebody whose going to walk into a place like that and start murdering people clearly has plainly lost their faith in humanity and they want to destroy everyone else's faith in humanity as he first step in countering that is to refuse to give up that faith in humanity,"

Kaleka admits dealing with his raw emotions took awhile.

"I was saying all the right things about being compassion loving and forgiveness and love because I had a communal commitment a responsibility that we need to say the right things for the world because at the end of the day I can't let this hate crime be the lasting message"

He admits, "Internally you're struggling, internally you're bitter and you need to be lovingly challenged out of a place of bitterness didn't know that the spirit was going to bring me a former white supremacist who started the same organization that the shooter belonged to that killed my father. We need to lovingly challenge ourselves to a better place"

At the helm of their message, nonviolence. Michaelis notes, "It's easy to be aggressive, it's easy to respond to aggression with aggression but if you really want to challenge yourself if you really want to show me how bad you are, respond to aggression with compassion. You don't believe it's hard? Try it sometime."

So today, two men who could have been bitter enemies lead with love and humanity.

Michaelis is now almost defiant in his anti-hate message.

"For me with my messed up personality, I almost do it from a place of spite. My faith is very genuine, but when it comes from a place like this, I'll be damned if you're going to shake my faith in humanity."

Kaleka is hopeful that he can leave a better world for our youth.

He insists, "The spiritual challenge we face right now is how we treat the people who don't look like us, who don't walk like us, who don't talk like us, don't pray in the same places as us. If my children can say my dad created a better world for all God's children, then I've lived a life worth living."

Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip