Naindeep (Deep) Singh, Central Unified School District trustee and executive director of The Jakara Movement, stands in front of a mural commissioned in his honor at Jaswant Singh Khalra Park on May 13, 2022. Credit: Danielle Bergstrom

It’s not often that a leader receiving a prestigious award chooses to use the opportunity to shine a spotlight on others, but that’s what Fresno Punjabi Sikh leader Naindeep Singh did at a reception in his honor on May 13.

Singh, a Central Unified School District trustee and the executive director of The Jakara Movement, a Fresno-based nonprofit that works with community members on housing justice, workers’ rights and youth development across California, received the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award for his work uplifting Sikh communities across California. He is one of seven people statewide to receive the honor this year, which comes with $250,000 for his organization and an honorary mural.

The organization he leads, The Jakara Movement, has been involved in securing pandemic-related protections for workers, distributing food and rental assistance, hosting vaccine clinics and ensuring language access for Punjabi-speaking members of the community to health care and essential government resources.

Inclusion is a key driver of Singh’s work.

“I think the largest narrative within the community has always been that they felt it was sort of set apart or marginalized. For us at Jakara, we give youth the sense that, ‘No, this is actually your community, you absolutely belong.’ I think that is fundamental and the most important work we do — opening doors and creating paths for all communities.”

What darkness does Singh feel called to challenge here in Fresno?

“I think there are many neighborhoods that just feel sort of that they’ve been left behind and that people don’t care,” Singh said. “Rising rents have made a situation that was difficult before so much more difficult. We’re also paying attention to the future of our water, and our community.”

Several Fresno leaders commended Singh’s and Jakara’s work fostering inclusion and belonging in the pursuit of justice.

“He continues to stand up for the youth, who for too long have felt that because of their faith, and the bigotry that we have in our communities, that they may be persecuted,” said Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno.

“How lovely is it today that we get to acknowledge (Singh) as both a peacemaker and fighter, right?” said Genoveva Islas, Fresno Unified School District trustee and executive director of Cultiva La Salud.

What’s next for Singh?

“If I had one magic wand, I would try to recalibrate the extreme concentration of money and political power in the hands of so few and make determinations on so many of us,” he said. “But ultimately our magic wand is organizing, our magic wand is in the work.”

Community celebration

The Jakara Movement is hosting a block party and mural unveiling Sunday with food, games and a community resource fair. All are invited and welcome, Singh said.

Location: Jaswant Singh Khalra Park, 3861 W. Clinton Ave., Fresno

Date: Sunday, May 22

Time: 3 to 8 p.m.

Learn about the mural

The mural, painted by Los Angeles artist Levi Ponce, is at the Jaswant Singh Khalra Park in Fresno west of Highway 99. It features 16 community leaders whom Singh refers to as “the lamps that challenged darkness.”

They are:

Editors’ Note: Naindeep Singh served on the Fresnoland Advisory Board in 2021. Fresnoland receives funding from the James Irvine Foundation. Fresnoland has complete editorial independence from its funders — they have no say in what stories Fresnoland chooses to write nor have any pre-publication review privileges.

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