Indian-American interfaith leaders from the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim tradition addressed the Democratic National Convention Aug.16, 2020.
Neelima Gonuguntla of Irving, Texas, is an international business professional and attorney in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, was among the speakers at the Interfaith Welcome Service, as was Sikh and interfaith community leader Pardeep Kaleka of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who was the first to address the Convention’s interfaith session.
She recited the Shanti Mantra from the Vedas in Sanskrit, ending with ‘Om shanti, shanti shanti’. She then explained the mantra which she said spells tolerance. She also quoted from the Upanishads, urging people to follow the dictum of unity. She went on to quote from The Mahabharata, where God inspires actions is where people will find righteousness followed by victory. She concluded with a Chinmaya Mission prayer.
Gonuguntla is a community leader promoting initiatives in education, women’s empowerment, and international trade with organizations such as Communities in Schools and the US Global Leadership Coalition, a press release from the Democratic Convention said.
Gonuguntla serves the Indian American community as a board member of Chinmaya Mission Dallas Fort Worth, an affiliate of one of the largest Hindu organizations in the United States.
Since July 2014, Gonuguntla has served as president of theU.S. India Chamber of Commerce based in Dallas, Texas. She earned her law degree from Baylor University where she also did her Masters in Business Administration. A also studied at Duke University School of Law and is a graduate of Boston University where she studied political science and international politics, according to her profile on LinkedIn.
The Interfaith service kicked off the 2020 Democratic National Convention, which began Aug. 17, and continues to Aug. 20.
In 2016, Harmeet Dhillon, a California attorney, delivered an opening prayer on the second day of the Repulican National Convention. Dhillon is one of California’s two elected members of the Republican National Committee. She is part of President Trump’s reelection team as co-chair of “Women for Trump.”
Kaleka’s father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, founder of the Oak Creek, Wisconsin gurdwara, was among the six people killed by white supremacist Wade Michael Page, when he opened fire indiscriminately Aug. 5, 2012. (A seventh victim, Baba Punjab Singh, who was critically injured in the assault, passed away from his injuries last year.)
“Namaste, Salaam, Shalom, and greetings to all,” Kaleka began. He prayed for those who lost their lives and those who are sick from the pandemic, and called for a more just and compassionate world.
“We appreciate all faith traditions for the richness of their spirituality,” for their united quest for unity and common dedication for peace.
“I was extremely honored to open the 2020 Democratic National Convention today with an Interfaith Invocation of #Healing and #Hope. #DNC2020,” Kaleka tweeted posting a video of the address on Twitter.
Kaleka is the executive director of Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, and is the founder of Serve2Unite. He is the author of “The Gifts of Our Wounds.”A former police officer and educator, and a clinician specializing treating trauma survivors and perpetrators of assault, abuse, and acts of violence, the Sikh Coalition press release said.
Also among the interfaith speakers was Imam Noman Hussain of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Hussain is the Islamic Studies Instructor at Salam School and Founder & CEO at Ilm Oasis, a nonprofit educational establishment dedicated to providing sound, authentic teachings of various Islamic disciplines, the Democratic Convention press release said.
Hussain said peace be upon all and recited a prayer from the Quran in Arabic. He then provided a translation of the prayer, which included a call to hold fast to unity. Be a community that calls for what is good, urges what is right and forbids what is wrong,” he explained, and called it an honor to speak at the interfaith session. He also spoke of racism, sexism, homophobia, which bore upon the country which is “searching desperately” for anyone who could “cool the flames” of hate. He described himself as the son of immigrants who had personally felt the sting of racism, and of how labelling and stigmatization were affecting the people.