Ryan Suevel sat still Sunday afternoon as two men of the Sikh religion demonstrated how to tie a purple cloth into a turban around his head.
The 24-year-old from Des Plaines had studied a variety of religions in college and learned about Sikhs in class. But during a Palatine event called "Get to Know Your Sikh Neighbor," he and dozens of other visitors were able to expand their knowledge by talking to Sikhs from their community, learning about their values and understanding the challenges they face.
"It's kind of an awareness program to let people know who they have in their community," Suevel said. "When I heard there was an opportunity to come out and meet Sikhs in the local area, I was excited to participate."
Sikhs have been living in the Chicago suburbs for decades, event organizer Thakar Basati said, but in recent years -- and particularly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- many have suffered from hate crimes, discrimination and cases of mistaken identity.
Through the event held at the Palatine Public Library, he said, the Sikh Religious Society hoped to inform the public of Sikhs' beliefs and highlight their contributions to society. Palatine is home to one of the largest Sikh places of worship, called a gurdwara, in the Midwest.
In addition to trying on turbans, attendees sampled Indian snacks and tea, listened to guest speakers, asked questions and engaged in a discussion about the Sikh religion.
"We want to educate people about who we are and why we have a turban on," Basati said. "That's what distinguishes us from other people. They look at the turban and say, 'Who are these people?' Other than the turban, we are like anybody else."
Mike Gilley of North Barrington, who learned of the event through Countryside Church Unitarian Universalist in Palatine, said the forum allowed him to show his support for those who are perceived as being different.
"Any time that we take time to listen deeply to other people and learn what their concerns are and what pains they experience, that influences how we react and respond," Gilley said. "I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."