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Musings: Inspired Youth Leaders

For the last 24 years since my son, Tariq was senselessly murdered by a 14-year gang member at the young age of 20 – my passion and commitment has been to youth through the work of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation ( The question I asked 24 years ago is “How did we create a society – where children kill children?” In my humble opinion societies do not happenstance – every one of us is reflected in the society we have created where children and youth kill children and youth. What is our personal responsibility in this huge malaise in our communities? How did we get here? We like to think that we are a civil society, but this violence is not the mark of civil society.
I know many of you who read mynewsletters are responsible, contributing members of society and for that, I offer my sincerest gratitude. However, the violence among our youth is a huge challenge and much more work needs to be done. In Newtown, Connecticut, 5 and 6-year-olds were gunned down in a hail of automatic gunfire. They had much more living to accomplish. A 20-year-old, Adam Lanza, took the lives of 20 first graders and 6 school employees. Many more school shootings have shocked our world and continue to do so at an alarming rate.
In my tragedy – what I saw was that there were victims at both ends of the gun. One of my favorite Henry David Thoreau quotes is “it does not matter what you look at – what matters is what you see.” What I saw is that the enemy was not the 14-year-old who killed my 20-year-old son, but rather the societal pressures that force many young souls to fall through the crack and choose a life of gangs, crime, drugs, alcohol, and weapons. I was shocked to learn that we have over 1.4 million registered gang members in 33,000 gangs in the USA causing havoc to many urban and suburban communities.
Next, I pondered the revelation that violence is a learned behavior – no child is born violent – the 14-year-old Tony who killed Tariq was not born violent. So, if that is a truism my second question was “Can nonviolence also be a learned behavior?” If so, can we inspire youth to become inspired leaders that practice the principles of nonviolence and commit to creating peace within themselves, their families and more importantly their communities?
It was with this perspective and to honor my slain son Tariq –that I founded the Tariq Khamisa Foundation to help my family and me deal with this tragic loss in a positive and meaningful way.
To create a world free of youth violence.
To stop children from killing children with 3 mandates:
To save the lives of children.
To inspire the right choices so youth do not choose lives of gangs, crime, drugs, alcohol, and weapons.
To teach the principles of nonviolence – of accountability, empathy, compassion, forgiveness and peace-building and peacekeeping.
That was 24 years ago and TKF today has evolved to teach much more than its original charter and has created a viable and an affordable solution to one of the largest and most challenging malaise in our society. Our programs continue to teach six key principles of nonviolence:
  1. Violence is real and harms everyone.
  2. Actions have consequences.
  3. Youth can make good and nonviolent choices.
  4. We can choose forgiveness rather than revenge.
  5. Everyone, including you, deserves to be respected and treated well.
  6. From conflict, you can create love and unity.
We teach these important principles through our stories. Sometimes you don’t know how painful violence is until it crosses your path – at least I did not. Now I understand how horrible violence is to the extent that I would never be violent to another human sister or brother. Tony was 14 when he made the decision to pull the trigger which took less than a second, but it changed the entire trajectory of the rest of his life — at age 38 he is still mired in the criminal justice system. We teach that we must always make good and nonviolent choices even when we are violated as I was – because bully’s need help too. Revenge is a precursor of every new act of violence, forgiveness breaks that cycle – a cornerstone of our message at TKF.
We teach that we are one human race, and everyone needs to be respected and treated well, irrespective of race, religion, gender, socio-economic status, and all the other isms. If we don’t get that we are ONE human race, we will never achieve peace. Finally, through conflict, there is an opportunity to create love and unity.
It is possible to create a brother or sister with perceived enemies or strangers, as evidenced by my relationship with Ples Felix, Tony’s grandfather. I would never have met Ples had his grandson not taken Tariq’s life and 24 years later, we are still together. Ples is African American and a Christian whereas my roots are Eastern and I am a practicing Muslim. We met in some extremely dire circumstances but were able to forge a strong, sustainable and respectful brotherhood and continue to work together in the work of TKF.
Is it working? Yes, my own experience is that not only are these principles teachable for our children but that youth are hungry for them.
Here are some of the results:
TKF SERVICES 1995-2017
• 127,333 students have attended Peacemaker Assemblies
• 9,224 young people have participated in TKF facilitated educational curriculum
• 2,360 youth have received individualized mentoring services from TKF
• 550,000 San Diego Children have attended TKF presentations or workshops
• The TKF story has reached more than 2 million individuals through public broadcasting series, educational networks, conferences, published articles, news stories, and other media outlets.
Is it affordable? Yes, finally after persevering for 24 years TKF’s Safe School Model that comprises of 4 different programs is not only producing above stellar results but it is very affordable. You will be pleased to read that TKF last year launched a national expansion plan to bring our Safe School Model (SSM) we have spent the last 24 years to develop. We have had many requests both in California, Nationally and some internationally (not ready to go there yet) for SSM and it is very exciting times. TKF has essentially created a viable and affordable solution to one of the biggest malaise in our society – Youth Violence. Free public education in California costs $10,615.00 a year per student and incarcerating a youth costs $148,767.00 a year and produces a staggering recidivism rate of 84% over the last 5 years. TKF SSM costs a meager $100.00 a year per student.
So, there is much hope and much more work must be done. My own lifelong commitment is to continue expanding the TKF’s SSM to the rest of our country and someday to the rest of the world until I am not able to do this work. While the genesis of my story is tragic – it put me on my spiritual purpose – an inspiring, meaningful and a fulfilling journey – a gift that my son Tariq left me in his passing. Thank you a million my dear and loving son!
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Azim Khamisa

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