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Musings: What Makes a Healthy Community in Today’s World?

As the fall season approaches, we naturally start to regroup into our communities and routine and also start to plan the slew of holidays and community gatherings.  As we look toward the new year, this is also a time where many nonprofit organizations, institutes of higher learning, and corporations organize conferences and annual gatherings.  We live in a difficult and diverse environment where a sense of a healthy community is being disrupted into factions that are extremely polarized and intolerant of each other.  “If you are not with me – you are against me.” is a common phrase and defensive modern way of thinking.  Obviously, this does not build a supportive, healthy and inclusive community.
So the question before us as we approach the mid-term elections is: What makes a healthy community that we want to live (and thrive) in and witness our children and grandchildren grow up in?  
I think the answer lies in the lessons taught to us by the Restorative Justice (RJ) tenets that are finally gaining popularity.  The Tariq Khamisa Foundation (TKF) has been practicing these principles for over 23 years and has used these principles to create a Safe School Model that – thanks to the grace of the Universe – is now in national and international demand. So, what is Restorative Justice?

To understand RJ we first need to look at our flawed criminal justice system which we inherited from the pilgrims that first arrived on Mayflower.  Most of the pilgrims came from Europe where many countries are monarchies.  In a monarchy, the King or the Queen owns both the people and the land so when a crime is committed it is always the King or the Queen against the perpetrator.  Our current criminal code was inherited from this punitive and uppity, flawed perspective.  In the USA, we do not have a monarchy, so the State takes the role of royalty–as in my case with my son’s murder it was the State of California vs. Tony Hicks.

Restorative Justice (which comes from the aboriginal people of New Zealand and Australia) on the other hand questions what the state or royalty has to do with the crime?  Crime happens in the context of community and in each crime, there are 3 parties: a) the victim; b) the perpetrator; and c) the community.  It takes the humane and holistic approach that justice is not served until these 3 mandates are achieved: a) the victim is made whole; b) the offender is returned to society as a functioning and contributing member and; c) the community is healed.  In other words – in every crime using these principles there is an opportunity to better society.
This RJ perspective is more humane and holistic than our current criminal justice system.  Today, our flawed society is only getting even more polarized.  We have a lot of work to do, my sisters and brothers, so be sure to vote for the right candidates in our mid-term elections. As you consider your vote, think about your community values and the world you want your children’s children to inherit.  Now is a time to come together, beyond our differences, and align on topics that will enhance the betterment of society as a whole.  In celebration of coming together and building community, bring a few friends with you that otherwise would not have voted!  We are a resilient bunch in America and I am counting on you to build an inclusive, compassionate, and healthy community for us and our future generations!

TKF just celebrated its 23rd anniversary at an inspiring gala on September 15th, 2018.  My talk shared below, explains more about how we have restored the broken community and invested in the health of society through the tenets of restorative justice, as they pertain to TKF.  

The Power of Forgiveness is the theme for tonight’s event.  Unbelievably we are celebrating the 23rd anniversary of TKF.  It happened as a result of Tariq sacrificing his life for his values – – Tariq had a strong moral fiber, was a kind generous wise soul, a gifted writer, photographer and was blessed with a great sense of humor.  His favorite hero was Gandhi – a man of peace.  Much of his character was shaped by his mother – Almas Khamisa – please help me acknowledge her.  One night, one bullet, one devastatingly tragic event almost 24 years ago, forever changed the lives of two families.
However,  sometimes in deep trauma and tragedy there is a spark of clarity – every saint has suffered the dark night of the soul.  The download I received not from my intellect or my loving heart, but from the higher power was that “there were victims at both ends of the gun.”  There is a great quote from Henry David Thoreau that says, “it does not matter what you look at – what matters is what you see.”  I was able to see that the enemy was not the 14-year-old Tony but rather the societal challenges that force many young men to fall through the crack and choose a life of gangs, crime, alcohol, drugs, and weapons.  It was with that perspective that I reached out to Ples (Tony’s grandfather and primary parental figure) with the attitude that we had both lost a son.  My son died and he lost his grandson to the adult criminal justice system.

There was nothing I could do to bring Tariq back from the dead and equally nothing Ples could do to save Tony from the flawed criminal justice system.  So, we united in the spirit of compassion and forgiveness and took on the difficult task of making sure other young souls in our community do not die like Tariq or end up in prison like Tony.  As you see we are still together 23 years later, fully committed to the work of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation and we will continue to do his work until we are no longer able to.

TKF was initially started with the vision to stop kids from killing kids with these 3 mandates: (1) to save lives of children – very important to do as we lose so many young souls every single day; (2) to empower the right choices so kids do not end up choosing lives of crime and violence and (3) to teach the principles of nonviolence – of empathy, compassion, forgiveness–and most importantly–peacemaking and peacebuilding.  The initial vision was simple: violence is a learned behavior – if you accept that as an axiom it follows that nonviolence can also be a learned behavior.  But you must teach it!


While we succeeded in achieving these important mandates we realized that we must serve all students and give them the appropriate tools to deal with negative and debilitating social and emotional challenges.  Today TKF has evolved to teaching kids restorative practices like how to repair relationships, positively fix situations and heal through the practice of forgiveness. We also realized that educators need help in using restorative practices to transform challenging and difficult behaviors into compassion and unity.  We are currently developing a parenting piece in partnership with Berkeley based on the restorative tools TKF has developed over its 23-year history.  TKF has figured out a solution to this daunting challenge and malaise in our society and created a viable and affordable holistic Safe School Model that successfully achieves these mandates and a lot more.

This year has been one of the most successful years for TKF.   We have expanded our reach and begun our first year of training external educators to deliver the TKF curriculum in their schools.  This was done both in San Diego and Philadelphia. This past year, we were in 21 schools, 4 districts and provided Safe School Model programs to almost 12,000 students.  Additionally, we expanded our support to 160 parents, 150 college students, and 345 educators through trainings and workshops.

In the school year that ended last summer, Ples and I gave 33 Peacemaker Assemblies in San Diego in addition to other speaking engagements around the country and some internationally.  It’s been a busy year, however it’s not enough.  Now, more than ever, our work is being requested and the urgency of restorative practices magnifies.  We routinely have several schools waiting for the Safe School Model. The only barrier for TKF to reach more students is financial resources. Thank you all for your continued support and my sincere request to please be generous tonight! TKF has developed the only program of its kind to provide the support to students and educators needs.  TKF is at the brink of tremendous expansion and success with schools and communities across the US.

So, this fully satisfies the tenets of RJ:

You cannot fully make me whole as you cannot bring Tariq back from the dead but by working with Ples and Tony fewer kids are ending up dead or in prison. That is meaningful to me and my family as Tariq did not die in vain. So to that extent, I can be restored and I believe I have been.

We have almost fully accomplished the task to return Tony back into our society as a functioning and a contributing member. He will be a powerful emissary of our message. To read his blog, follow this link. 

By doing our work at the Tariq Khamisa Foundation and serving a busy national and international speaking roster, we are indeed healing the community.  So, in my humble opinion, each of us has something to offer that is ours alone, not duplicated in anyone else. The more we mine all our resources and allow them to contribute to the community, the richer and healthier our lives and community will be. I can never be comfortable cutting myself off from the chance that people might have something rare and valuable to offer – even if they have once made a terrible mistake.
Peace and many blessings,
   Azim Khamisa
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Azim Khamisa

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