Voorhees Middle School graduate speaks to eighth graders about bullying

Karanveer Singh Pannu wrote a book detailing his experiences with bullying growing up and he talked to students about his Sikh religion and how he dealt with and overcame bullying.

Karanveer Singh Pannu speaks to eighth-grade students at Voorhees Middle School about the Sikh religion and the bullying he experience growing up.

Growing up, Karanveer Singh Pannu dealt with constant bullying because of his Sikh religion. The Voorhees resident and Rutgers-Camden college freshman wrote a book detailing his experiences called “Bullying of Sikh American Children: Through the Eyes of a Sikh American High School Student.” It was published in 2015 during his senior year of high school.

Pannu grew up in Voorhees and attended Osage Elementary School, Voorhees Middle School and Eastern Regional High School before moving on to Rutgers-Camden. He visited one of his alma maters Thursday, Voorhees Middle School, to talk to eighth-grade students about his book, how he dealt with and overcame bullying he experienced growing up, and explained the Sikh religion through his experiences and documentaries. He also demonstrated “turban time,” where he showed students how to wrap a turban by putting it on one of the teacher’s heads and had a question and answer series at the end of the presentation. He visited all the elementary schools between November and January and spoke to sixth and seventh graders at Voorhees Middle School last Friday.

One of the documentaries he presented to the students said there are 26 million Sikh worldwide with 700,000 of them living in the United States, making it the fifth largest world religion. Sikh can be distinguished by religious articles such as turbans they wear on their heads and long beards.

Pannu spoke about a few examples where kids were bullying him because of his turban, and he used his negative emotions and turned it into something positive.

“There were two kids that were calling me names and I sat them down,” he said. “I said ‘listen, this is who I am, this is why I wear my turban and this is the reason why I look the way I look. Those two kids were in tears and started crying they realized that hey, we messed with the wrong kid. We didn’t know why he wore this turban in the first place. More kids started coming and I showed them my hair, how I wore my turban, and I turned that negative story into a positive one.”

Pannu also spoke about the many activities he participated in that built his self-esteem, taught him life lessons and built a foundation that helped prevent bullying. Those activities include public speaking, martial arts, Boy Scouts, extra curricular activities, community service and empathy training. He stressed the importance of these activities and encouraged the students to get involved.

Social media can provoke cyber bullying, but Pannu explained if you use social media to your advantage and promote yourself in a positive way, it can stop cyber bullying.

“Ever since I wrote the book, I went on Instragram and created an account. I’ve been promoting my faith, promoting what I am and what I’m doing in my life. I’ve been getting positive comments,” he explained. “People are realizing that kids my age and kids across the country are seeing all the good work I’m doing. If you have something that you’re passionate about that can actually help the community, spread it on social media. It’s one of the easiest ways to make yourself known all over the world, and whatever you’re doing that’s positive, it’s definitely worth it.”

Karanveer Singh Pannu holds a copy of his book, “Bullying of Sikh American Children: Through the Eyes of a Sikh American High School Student.”

Sue Donnelly, anti-bullying coordinator for Voorhees Township Public Schools, hopes the assembly resonated with students and makes them think more before they do and say something they may regret.

“The district is so proud of our former student,” she said. “We hope the kids learned that the more familiar you are with something, that helps build an understating to help eliminate bullying and having respect for others.”

After graduating college, Pannu plans to go to law school and get involved with public service. He interned with Sen. Cory Booker last fall and may want to follow his footsteps. He said he learned a lot during his internship, especially after the election, and also realized his voice and his book means more now than ever before.

“With the election, people are saying it’s become a divided America, and there’s a lot of racial tensions going on, and the president-elect hasn’t made it easier, so I think what I’m doing right now is needed more now than ever, and hopefully people will start to realize we’re all one family and we’re all united. We are the United States of America; we have to make it be that way,” Pannu said.