Sikh Youth Join President Obama's Mentoring Lunch at the White House and Get Mentoring lessons from American Icons


  White House Photo: Sikh Youth seen behind President Obama; Inderbir Singh, Kabir Singh, Sukhpreet Singh and Vikram Singh

   Nine Sikh boys from the Washington Metropolitan area met with President Obama at the White House shortly after he delivered a major address on fatherhood on Monday, the day after Father's Day. It was during the Father's Day "mentoring barbecue" lunch on the South Lawn of the White House, President Obama, the father of two daughters, played host.


  From left to right: Daven Singh Basra, Amarinder Singh Pandher, Gurpreet Singh, Rajdeep Singh, Guransh Singh, Sukhpreet Singh Saran, Vikram Singh Mangat, Inderbir Singh Pandher, Kabir Singh Gumer and Paul Monteiro, Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement at the White House.

   The Sikh boys were among 150 high school students who attended this event that promoted mentoring. These high school students had the extraordinary opportunity to attend President Obama's Barbeque lunch to discuss the importance of fatherhood and taking personal responsibility.


  President Obama addressing the young people at the White House

   A day after Father's Day, Obama announced the President's Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative to press the point that addressing fatherlessness has been a priority of the Obama administration. The President spent his day reflecting on fatherhood, how it shapes kids, and the responsibilities fathers face. He spoke in the morning at an event in Washington, DC before hosting Mentoring Barbeque on the South Lawn later.

These young men along with other students from all across America had the opportunity to meet and speak with successful men during the event. They included James Gates- American theoretical physicist; Swim Cash- WNBA All-star; Ethan Thomas- NBA player; Robert Wolf- Independent Financial advisors of President Obama; Steve Harvey- American comedian.


  Some of the Mentors at the White House

   "It is significant that the President of the United States touches this critical issue facing the American society and giving it so much importance," said Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education and who coordinated Sikh youth presence at the White House. He added, "We look forward to working with President Obama in the coming days on behalf of children, families and communities around our great nation."

All of the Sikh boys go to Guru Gobind Singh Foundation (GGSF) gurdwara, a Sikh congregation, based in Rockville, Maryland. In addition to being focused on their education, they all are involved in youth activities at GGSF and many of them learn kirtan (sikh hymn singing), tabla and gatka - Sikh martial art.


  Daven Singh with Steve Harvey

   Daven Singh Basra, a rising senior at Quince Orchard High School from Gaithersburg, Maryland, has singing kirtan as his passion. While praising his mentor Robert Wolf who is one of 12 independent financial advisors to Obama, said, "The real inspiration that I found came from Wolf's story of success. Robert Wolf always strived to be a scholar athlete as a young high school student and he managed to come 4th in his graduating class in academic excellence while juggling baseball, football, and basketball in his extracurricular activities. As he went on to college he was rather close to becoming a doctor until he came upon the buying and selling of securities on wall street. This erased my fear of picking the wrong line in college, I found comfort that if I find something that I have more of a passion for I can still switch careers. Surprisingly I was just as inspired, if not more, by my fellow students then the mentors. Hearing the stories of fellow students of colleges they've gotten into, things that they have been doing over the summer. It really inspired me to do something over the summer and not sit idle. I would want to tell others is that one of the most important things to do over the summer is to keep yourself relatively busy and not let your brain rot from continuous exposure to video games and TV."


  Sukhpreet Singh with Etan Thomas

   Sukhpreet Singh Saran, also a rising senior at Quince Orchard High School, and who plays in his school's Lacrosse and football team and wants to be an engineer, said, "I was given the chance to take up a once in a lifetime opportunity, to meet the president. It was an amazing experience. I got to shake hands with the first African American President of the United States. What an honor! Not only did I meet the President, but I also had the chance to have a deep, intellectual conversation with Al Houston. I thought this whole situation was extremely moving. Never would I have thought I would be able to meet the president of the United States! Just think about it! How unreal does it sound? All this talk with these superior role models motivated me to make a change in the world and actually get out there and make something of myself. All these role models left their mark on the world. Now it's my turn."


  Guransh Singh with Etan Thomas

   Guransh Singh, 8th grader from Herbert Hoover Middle School going to 9th grade at Winston Churchill high School and who has tabla, kirtan, books and basketball as his passion and wants to be a lawyer, said, "While I was there, I was in complete awe because I never imagined meeting Mr. Obama and other celebrities. I met a current NBA player in Ethan Thomas, a retired NBA player Allan Houston, and the secretary of Energy. I was very excited before we reached the White House because meeting celebrities is not something everyone does on a daily basis. However, after meeting them and conversing with them, I felt comfortable and realized that the only difference between us and them is the level of success. Meeting these people impacted my life and I left the White House a humbled person. I was inspired to keep working hard at my life. When school starts again in the fall, I will strive to do my best and study for all my tests and do all the work that is asked me. Also, I had the privilege to play on Mr. Obama's basketball court at the White House. It was an amazing experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. One song kept repeating itself in my head. It is called my generation and it goes: My generation will make a change; this generation will make a change. This will indeed happen if we spread what we learned and we apply it to our lives."

Gurpreet Singh, an academic high achiever and 10th grader at Quince Orchard High School, and who has robotics engineering as his passion, said, "Though I didn't realize it at first the trip to the White House actually encouraged me and inspired me. When I went to the White House I felt a little nervous, knowing that I will see the President in person and also knowing that I will meet famous people. Though, as the day continued, I felt a bit more at ease, especially when I realized that these famous people were just normal regular people. I met an NBA player Allan Houston, who is now retired. He started off by asking us what we wanted to do in college and what jobs we wanted to have in the future. He asked us about whom we look up to and asked us other questions related to that. But, the more and more the group talked the deeper and deeper the conversations got. My group started to talk about life and religion and in fact my group and I started teaching him about our religion. We started talking about Sikhism and what we believe in. He actually had a lot of questions about our religion and he seemed very interested in it. I just thought that I was going to the White House to talk about my career in the future, but actually I was able to aid in teaching an NBA player about my religion. This actually inspired me and encouraged me because if I was able to help teach an NBA player about my religion then I feel like I can teach anyone. A message I would give to friends and other Sikh boys of my age who were not there is that it doesn't matter who asks you about your religion don't feel hesitant to answer any questions they may have."


  Daven Singh, Rajdeep Singh and kabir Singh and Swim Cash


  Rajdeep Singh with James Gates

   Rajdeep Singh, 11th grader at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, who has kirtan and Neuro-science as his passion, said, "I Never would have thought..." is a motto that I repeated constantly throughout the visit at the White House, because it represents exactly what I was feeling.

It was an amazing, unforgettable day in my opinion. We entered and about 5 minutes later, President Obama, along with the mentors, came out. When President Obama came out, I was excited. I was about 5 feet from him, something I hadn't ever thought would happen. I looked to my right and saw celebrities, the likes of comedian Steve Harvey, NBA player Etan Thomas, physicist James Gates, Tracee Ross from "Girlfriends" and many more, something I never even thought of as a possibility, ignoring the fact that I had the opportunity to talk with them as well. I believe that the 2 highlights of the day for me were shaking President Obama's hand and meeting and talking with Steve Harvey. It took about 2 minutes for it to kick in that I had actually shook the President's hand. Another 2 minutes later, when I look down the lawn and saw the tourists taking pictures, I was immediately overtaken with humility. I could not believe that I was on the inside looking out instead of what it normally is. I had the opportunity to meet the President, come to the White House, and meet many celebrities, something people, including myself, wish for. I feel very lucky, even now, at the fact that I was allowed into this extraordinary event. Steve Harvey truly inspired me today. If I took away anything from Mr. Harvey, it was that the difference between the words "ordinary" and "extraordinary" is a much greater difference than that of their spellings. I learned that I must strive to be "extraordinary", and that I should, and I will, always think positive and big, for if I do, then I will surely succeed. One example that he gave really hit me. Mr. Harvey said "It doesn't take any more effort to say 'First Class' rather than 'Coach', so why do people say coach? I personally say 'private aircraft". Although the crowd that had started with 6 and had grew to about 20 plus started laughing, I grasped what he was trying to say. Success comes from attitude, and if you believe that you want something, then you can get it. Always think big and believe in yourself and believe in God. By doing these things, one will succeed. I learned alot from a comedian who I thought was just going to crack jokes, and I was truly motivated to strive for excellence and to broaden my horizon.

In conclusion, the event was again unforgettable and inspirational, not only because I got to meet so many celebrities and people who have succeeded, but because the students attending the event were just like me: aspiring students who just need some guidance and some motivation. As I looked around at the conclusion of the event, I felt really grateful and out of the many things going around in my mind, 4 things came up the most: 1) I am going to be successful and make a difference in this world. 2) I am going to be invited to White House events like these celebrities when I grow older. 3) I really want Steve Harvey to speak at my graduation and 4) Thank you, God, for giving me this wonderful, humbling opportunity. I will never forget this day because it truly opened my eyes and motivated me to always think big and strive for excellence."

Vikram Singh Mangat, a tall and a rising 11th Grader from Winston Churchill High School, in Potomac, Maryland, and who is playing for his basketball team in school, said. "It was a life changing experience for me. It made me realize how fortunate I was to be sitting on the White House lawn eating lunch. not only that but furthermore it made me realize how special my peers and I are and how lucky we are to be living in a country with so much opportunity. After long conversations with my celebrity mentor former NBA player Allan Houston I concluded that we as kids have the tools to do anything we want in this world. We have all the tools and resources to make change but we just need to have the right mind set. This mind set is not easy as it involves many responsibilities and a lot of commitment and devotion but with such a mind set the possibilities are endless. Everyone at this event was so genuine and welcoming. Obama shook any one's hand and just the overall environment felt very welcoming and sincere. My mentor Mr. Houston and I had a very interesting conversation and we both learned a lot from it. This was truly a life changing event and I am very thankful to the White House for the invitation. To any of my peers or friends that could not make it the one message I would like to convey is that we are living in the greatest country in the world. We can do anything as a community as long as we put our mind to it. I mean to be at the lawn of the White House eating hamburgers? What are the chances? One in almost a billion. But that statistic in the end is ultimately just a number and doesn't mean anything. We as kids of minority races should ignore the statistics and just pursue anything we have a passion for in this world."

Amarinder Singh Pandher, 12th grader from Quince Orchard High School, Gaitherburg, Maryland, and who learns gatka and who wants to be a physician, said, " I had the privilege to go to the White House to celebrate Father's Day. The first thing everyone did was stand in front of the South Lawn to see President Obama. It was funny to see them get excited every time someone came out of the building. When Obama finally came out, he gave a welcoming speech and shook everyone's hands. I couldn't believe it; the whole time, I thought I was watching TV.

After, shaking everyone's hands, he introduced the celebrity guests and sent them to each group. The celebrity guest that was in my group was Allan Houston, a retired NBA player. We had a real heart-to-heart conversation. The first topic he asked our group was about Sikhism. He asked why we wore out turbans, the values Sikhism upholds and if we were made fun of when we were kids. The next topic we talked about was President Obama. We talked about his policies, his views and how he deals with political attacks such as the ones from the Tea Party movement. The last topic we talked about was who influenced our lives the most. After that, we went to the basketball court and played 21. We even saw the President Obama's Ball and the White House basketball court.


  From left to right: Sikh youth enjoying desert at the White House: Guransh Singh, Inderbir Singh, Vikram Singh, Gurpreet Singh and Amarinder Singh

   This experience has been extremely memorable for me. I was able to go to the White House and meet Obama in person and it has taught me that I can accomplish anything if I work my hardest. I would give the same message to anyone who tries to accomplish something in life."

Inderbir Singh, 11th grader from Quince Orchard High School, Maryland, and who has soccer as his passion and wants to be an engineer, said, "I thought that I was lucky just to be picked out of 10 kids from Gurudwara, but when I reached the White House I learned that there were only 100 kids from all of America to be there. I immediately realized that this was a very special occasion this was and that I was lucky at all to be there. I thought that there were probably people more deserving then me who should be here.

The event at the White House started with a speech from Obama. He explained that he had brought "mentors" from all over the country. These mentors were supposed to sit with us during lunch and share experiences and help guide us through the future. In my opinion I think they did more than that, they inspired us to change the world. The mentor that was sitting at my table was Allan Houston. Al Houston is a retired basketball player who now is the Assistant to the President for Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks. He advised on not only on life but on the problems of life. We talked about hate in the world and how to educate people about what is right and what is wrong.

This inspired me to believe that if one man can change a group of kids then each of us could change another group of kids which creates a domino effect that can change the world"


  Kabir Singh with Swim Cash

   Kabir Singh, 11th Grader from Quince Orchard High School, Gaitherburg, Maryland, and who plays basketball for his school and who is an academic high achiever, said, "I was one of the privileged high school students in America, out of 100, to celebrate Father's day at the White House with President Barack Obama and several other well known guests. First, President Obama came outside to the South lawn and gave us a welcoming speech. He later introduced us to his famous guest speakers, who we had the chance to personally talk to. Our discussion was mainly on the importance of responsible fatherhood and mentoring to build healthy families and communities.

I personally had an inspirational discussion with American theoretical physicist, James Gates and comedian Steve Harvey. Mr. Gates and I had a discussion about the challenges that we will face in our futures and how to overcome those challenges and make them a learning experience. He persistently emphasized the importance of higher education and transferring the knowledge we acquire to be beneficial in our work environment. Mr. Gates was very sincere during his discussion, that it had a lasting expression on me personally. After talking to Mr. Gates, I went to the famous comedian Steve Harvey. Mr. Harvey had a different approach then Mr. Gates, but equally as inspirational. We had a discussion about how to become successful. Mr. Harvey was very straight-forward with us about the difference of having a diploma and being successful. He strongly emphasized that having a diploma will not guarantee success. He said that the way to become successful is to by training your mind to "think positively" and "think big". Mr. Harvey was very passionate during his discussion which also left a lasting expression on me personally.

Both of the guest speakers I had talked to have had an inspirational effect that I believe will have a positive impact for my future. Both speakers spoke from experience and both talked about the importance of what I do now, because it will affect my future. Just as President Obama said in his morning speech, these guest speakers are here to help us and mentor us.

This experience was a memorable experience that I wish I could share with all my friends, especially the ones in the Sikh community. When reflecting on this experience, I realize that I am fortunate to be in the position that I am in and it is my job to make every situation into a positive one. Being a Sikh, I only see the positives that come with keeping my identity and this experience made that more clear. Difficulties do come but that is a part of growing up and we have to deal with them."


   Earlier in the morning before a crowd of faith leaders, fatherhood experts, women's groups and everyday moms and dads, President Obama delivered a major address on fatherlessness in America. He joined dads everywhere in a call to action on behalf of nation's families and kicked off The President's Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative, a nationwide push to address father absence and ensure that all kids have positive role models in their lives. Mr. Obama said, in a call to action with states, cities and non-government organizations to raise awareness about responsible fatherhood.


  Rajdeep, Vikram, Sukhpreet, Etan Thomas, Guransh and Kabir

   Striking a personal note the day after Father's Day, President Obama announced a set of new proposals to help fathers become more engaged in their children's lives.

Speaking at an arts and recreation campus in Washington, Mr. Obama also proposed a Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund, which would provide funding for community projects that assist fathers. Those programs could include job training, parenting skills classes and domestic violence prevention.

He also outlined a transitional jobs initiative for men leaving prison so they can meet their child support obligations, as well as a plan for special re-entry courts for fathers leaving prison.

Mr. Obama said there are "too many fathers missing from too many homes," and that "when fathers abandon their responsibilities, there's harm done."

He added, "I say this as someone who grew up without a father in my own life."

While government can't force fathers to be present in their children's lives, Mr. Obama said, it can send a message that there's no excuse for failing to meet parental obligations.

He spoke fondly of his own experiences of a father, saying, "The most challenging, most fulfilling, most important job I will have in my time on this earth is to be Sasha's and Malia's dad."

Over the past year, officials from the Obama administration held a six-city listening tour on responsible fatherhood to help develop programs that address fatherlessness. On Monday, Mr. Obama announced next steps via a President's Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative, including:

"We can do everything possible to provide good jobs and good schools and safe streets for our kids, but it will never be enough to fully make up the difference."

"That is why we need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child, but the courage to raise one."




   Mentors at the White House


   Steve Harvey began doing stand-up comedy in the mid-1980s, which eventually led to a long stint as host of "It's Showtime at the Apollo." His success as a stand-up comedian led to multiple TV sitcoms, including: "Me and The Boys" on ABC from 1994-1995, "The Steve Harvey Show" on the WB from 1996-2002 and "Steve Harvey Big Time Challenge" on the WB from 2003-2005. Currently Harvey hosts the nationally syndicated Steve Harvey Morning Show, which airs in over 64 markets and has over 7 million listeners from 6-10 AM


   Robert Wolf is the Chairman & CEO for UBS Group Americas, President for the UBS Investment Bank and a member of the UBS Group Executive Board. Robert served as Global Head of Fixed Income from 2002 – 2004. He joined the firm in 1994 after spending approximately 10 years at Salomon Brothers.


   James Gates, Jr. is an American theoretical physicist. He received BS and PhD degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the latter in 1977. His doctoral thesis was the first thesis at MIT to deal with supersymmetry. Gates is currently the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park and serves on President Barack Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He is known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. In 1984, working with M. T. Grisaru, M. Rocek, W. Siegel, Gates co-authored ``Superspace, the first comprehensive book on the topic of supersymmetry.

Gates has been featured extensively on many NOVA PBS programs on physics, most notably The Elegant Universe in 2003. In 2006, he completed a DVD series titled "Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality" for The Teaching Company composed of 24 half-hour lectures to make the complexities of unification theory comprehensible to laypeople. During the 2008 World Science Festival, Prof. Gates narrated a ballet "The Elegant Universe" where he gave a public presentation of the artist forms connected to his scientific research.


   Swim Cash, Two-time WNBA All-Star, Olympic gold medalist ,Most Outstanding Player at 2002 Final Four. Her full name, Swintayla, means "astounding woman." Call us astounded. Tall, toned and sexy, she's the cover girl of the WNBA. Hey, who wouldn't want to be posted up inside by the All-Star forward?

Cash recently was named one of college basketball's top 25 female players in the past 25 years as celebrated the silver anniversary of the women's NCAA Tournament. On the court, her achievements include leading Connecticut to an undefeated national championship season in 2002, helping the Shock win the 2003 WNBA title and winning Olympic gold in 2004. Off the court, she has received an array of honors, including an ESPY nomination for best WNBA player among numerous awards. She constantly gives back to the community through her foundation and donates money to the Children's Tumor Foundation.

Robert Wolf is the Chairman & CEO for UBS Group Americas, President for the UBS Investment Bank and a member of the UBS Group Executive Board. Robert served as Global Head of Fixed Income from 2002 – 2004. He joined the firm in 1994 after spending approximately 10 years at Salomon Brothers.


   Ethan Thomas graduated from Syracuse University as a two-time Big East defensive player of the year and the school's all time leader in block shots. Picked by Dallas in the first round of the 2000 NBA Draft, he eventually ended up playing for the Washington Wizards, where he became impressed with the political activism surrounding him. He has been invited to speak at the Congressional Black Caucus and has worked heavily with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as a vocal opponent of the death penalty.

Thomas has a passion for young people, speaking at community organizations, high schools and prisons across the country. He has performed alongside Nikki Giovanni, Edward Hirsch, The Last Poets, Kevin Powell and others. Refreshingly humble and remarkably talented, Thomas is determined to change the face of poetry, politics and professional sports with his own brand of legacy and an honest sense of urgency that resonates off every page of his first collection.Etan Thomas is More Than An Athlete. He's been called a "gentle giant". A "rebounder with a cause". Now the world can add published author to that list! With the release of his first collection of poems, Thomas defies the stereotype of the A-political athlete, and plants his roots in his budding literary career.


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