By Kristina Houck
After the murder of his son, Azim Khamisa chose forgiveness. And with that, tragedy turned into triumph through the creation of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation.
Twenty years later, the nonprofit, which aims to stop youth violence, marked a major milestone with its 20th anniversary gala Oct. 3 at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club.
“Looking back over the last 20 years, I’m just amazed at all that has been manifested from the choice I made,” Khamisa said. “I made a choice to forgive.”
Formed by Khamisa just nine months after his son’s death, the Tariq Khamisa Foundation is dedicated to stopping the cycle of youth violence, starting with the kids themselves. The foundation offers violence-impact assemblies and a violence-reduction class curriculum. It also offers community-service events, mentorship programs and workshops.
“We are teaching the principles of empathy, compassion and forgiveness,” Khamisa said.
When Khamisa speaks to students, the gunman’s grandfather, Ples Felix Jr., is often at his side.
In a spirit of forgiveness, Khamisa reached out to Felix to help form the foundation. Felix now sits on the board.
“I can’t bring my son back from the dead. He can’t get his grandson out of prison. But the one thing we can do is make sure that no other young soul in our community ends up dead or ends up in prison,” Khamisa said. “He was very quick to take my hand of forgiveness. We’re still together, 20 years later.”
In 1995, Khamisa’s 20-year-old son, Tariq, a San Diego State University sophomore, was shot and killed while delivering pizza. It was part of a gang initiation, called “Jacking the Pizza Man,” and 14-year-old Tony Hicks, the one being initiated, fired the fatal bullet.
The following year, Hicks became the first child in California under the age of 16 to be convicted as an adult. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Now 35, Hicks is working on his associate degree in child psychology, and he wrote the forward to Khamisa’s last book. He’s also been promised a job with the foundation once he is paroled in 2018.
“He’s totally shifted now. We saved him,” Khamisa said. “Think about how many more kids he will save when he joins us.”
In two decades, Tariq Khamisa Foundation has reached 500,000 youths through its programs and millions of people through its story. Khamisa has given more than 1,000 school presentations and more than 500 keynote addresses across the world. He has also written four books.
With violence still prevalent, Khamisa hopes to bring the foundation’s programs to even more youth.
“Sometimes tragedies destroy you, sometimes they make you a better person,” Khamisa said. “It’s based on the choice you make.”
For more about Tariq Khamisa Foundation, visit www.tkf.org.