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PEACE in Action

Forgiveness: The Road to Peace


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Building a Culture of Peace
Forgiveness: The Road to Peace

The End / The Beginning

"Bust him, Bone!"

Those were the words from an 18-year-old gang member, words that demanded 14-year-old Tony Hicks — also known as "Bone" — to fire his weapon. A single shot from the 9mm handgun exploded in the cold air that January night in 1995 in San Diego. Tariq Khamisa, 20-year-old college student and part-time pizza deliverer, lay dead in the front seat of his car.

Tariq was my boy.

So ended the life of an artistic, vibrant, generous and humorous young man. Upon hearing of Tariq's death, it felt as if a nuclear bomb went off in my heart, a pain beyond excruciating. I recall leaving my body and being cradled, by the loving embrace of God, as shock went through my body. When I returned to consciousness, though I was in pain, I had a realization - that there were victims on both sides of the gun.

So began a journey for myself … one I would not take alone. I would take the spirit of Tariq with me, as I forged my way … from murder to forgiveness … to fulfillment … and hopefully, God willing inshallah! … to enlightenment. So began a journey I would also take with many others, including Tony Hicks, his grandfather Ples Felix, and hundreds of thousands of children watching on as we all took part in the gentle healing brought to us through forgiveness.

On April 7, 1995, 10 weeks after Tariq's death, I drove to Mammoth Mountain in Southern California to spend a few days in solitude and reflection to help calm my inner storms. My thoughts drifted back to the conversation with my spiritual teacher and his teachings about the soul's journey. I knew Tariq was at peace, even though I was not. I began to understand that to find peace for myself, I needed to find something that I could do for Tariq, for his journey. This grief had to be broken — or at least set aside — for both our sakes. The phrases "spiritual currency" and "fuel for the journey of the soul" kept playing in my mind.

So, it was high up in the mountains in front of the fire on a chilly April night that I got my first inspiration about what I might do. "What if I became a foe -- not of the boy who killed my son, but of the forces which led him to kill my son? What if I reached out as far as I possibly could, and devoted myself to fighting the plague of youth violence?" It was as if three strands of longing had come together to form a slender lifeline: to do something for Tariq, to do something for my country, and to do something for myself.

I came down from the mountains with a new purpose. I started talking to almost everyone I knew about my concept for a Foundation in my son's name. The response was incredible. Everyone offered to help. The next six months were filled with the planning, communications, and resource hunting required to launch a non-profit organization. My close friends Dan Pearson, Kit Goldman, and Mike Reynolds ("Rojo") joined me, serving as my core team.

After months of hard work, the first meeting of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation (TKF) took place on October 26, 1995 at my home in La Jolla, California. My modest townhouse was packed with about 50 people who were committed to my vision. A total of $8,000 was collected to launch the Tariq Khamisa Foundation. Immediately afterwards, I told San Diego prosecutor Peter Deddeh that I wanted to meet Ples Felix, the grandfather and guardian of Tony Hicks, Tariq's killer.

One short week later, on Friday, November 3 at the office of Tony's attorney, I met Ples for the first time. From his heart, he shared that he had been holding my family and me in his daily prayers and meditation. I then told Ples that I felt no animosity towards him or his family, and that I believed both his family and mine were victimized by this tragic incident. I was pleased to discover in Ples a faith as strong as my own, and a similar burning desire to end the plague of youth violence. Ples pledged to help with the work of the Foundation in any way he could.

I invited Ples to attend the second meeting of the Foundation the following week. With great courage and grace, Ples walked alone into my home that evening. The house was filled with my family, friends and colleagues, including Tariq's mother, his grandparents, Tariq's sister Tasreen, and his aunt. I can't imagine the courage it took for Ples to face these 50 people who had known and loved Tariq. Ples spoke eloquently to the group, coming from his huge heart. After Ples and I had finished speaking that evening, there was not a dry eye in the house… TKF was born … and the TKF Journey had begun.

Azim, Tariq & TKF today

for the past 12 years, through such programs as the interactive vif (violence impact forums) at middle schools throughout san diego, tkf has made huge strides in inspiring children to make the choice towards nonviolence and away from the false security of a gang life.

today, the tariq khamisa foundation is actively pursuing partnership with san diego state university in order to create a peace and nonviolence curriculum suitable for grades k-12, based on tkf's vision and programs. as well, dr. carl cohn, the superintendent of the san diego unified school district, who has experienced tkf's programs, wants tkf placed in every school in the district.

TKF is teaching children that through the development of empathy, compassion and forgiveness, we can create peace, love and unity out of conflict. Our children are our future leaders, and it is my personal goal that TKF programs first enter every school in our country and is then taken to Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and other parts of our world. The reason? To teach that unless we, as a society, learn to create love and unity from conflict, the human race will most certainly perish. Think about this — if TKF meets its mandate, the only logical outcome is world peace. What could be more important?

Conflict & Restoration

I realize that conflict is a part of life. There is conflict between spouses, mother-daughter, fatherson, families, peers, and nations. Conflict is not going away. We need to shift our paradigms about conflict and look at it as an opportunity to build trust, empathy, unity, and peace. That is precisely what we teach at TKF (www.TKF.org) as well at another program I founded called CANEI. Developed under the auspices of the National Youth Advocate Program, CANEI (Constant And Never Ending Improvement) (www.CANEI.org) is a restorative justice program for adolescents located in five US cities.

In both programs, we teach and hold in mind that no matter the gravity of the offense — by making the right choice — we can transform society and manifest a miracle. Every day there are opportunities — small and big — in which we can create unity, love, and peace from conflict by making the right choice — the compassionate choice — choosing to forgive rather than seeking revenge. And also choosing to restore the individual who has harmed.

These high ethical values are not just the purview of the enlightened lot in our society — we can all do this. Neither Ples nor I are trained in theology. On the contrary, Ples is an ex-Green Beret, and I am an investment banker. And yet we were able to forge a strong brotherhood from a very tragic incidence through forgiveness. We can all do this! This is what will get us to world peace, not get us the horrific results found with the prevalent "eye for an eye" attitude.

For that bigger picture of peace, I am currently working to get Tony out of prison so that he too can stand alongside me to show what forgiveness can do. Imagine the kind of impact Tony would have on the younger generation as he relates his side of the story. What would best serve — having Tony hanging from the highest tree for his wrongdoing in an everlasting punishment, or having him atone for his actions, and then — upon his restoration — give back to society as a helpful, useful force? What serves better — a sense of rage, bitterness and resentment towards Tony, or the openness and willingness to hold empathy and forgiveness for all impacted here? If I didn't hold in my heart empathy and love for all concerned, what would I replace it with?

Forgiveness & Peace

Truly, I believe that if we have more forgiving people in the world, we can speed up the process to discover not only our inner peace but a world at peace. I would love to see more and more people making a commitment to get engaged in a meaningful way to the process of world peace. We can all make a difference. Let us leave a better and safer America for our children and grandchildren. It is their right … and our duty.

Now, if you will, stretch your imagination. If all the conflicts in the world could be resolved by extending brotherhood and sisterhood, what would our world look like?

Peace is in the air. Can you feel it? Yes, there are wars raging, rumors of war, and plenty of turmoil on our streets and within our homes. But can you feel the other trend arising? Peace is in the air. Even with the new trends, I still know that peace starts with the individual: me and you.

  1. Do you have peace in your life?
  2. Are your relationships resolved?
  3. Could you pass from this life today with a clean slate, a clear conscience, a healed heart?

If not, then I invite you to resolve internal conflicts, which will bring about the external peaceful outcomes, since we know now that our outer world is a reflection of our inner world. And as we heal the battle within, we will see the peace reflected in our relationships, home and society. As we also know:

  • Sustained good will creates friendship.
  • Sustained friendship creates trust.
  • Sustained trust creates compassion.
  • Sustained compassion creates peace.

People ask me how I was able to extend good will to the person who murdered my son. It was through forgiveness. As you can tell from my story - found in my book, my website and my talks - it worked for me and my family. And it worked for Tony and his family. It can work for you. It can work for the country, and it can work for the world. I know that peace is possible. And how do I know that? It is because I am at peace.

(Azim N. Khamisa was born in Kenya, Africa and is now a resident of La Jolla, California. Azim is the Chairman, CEO and Founder of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, as well as founder and National Director of CANEI, Constant And Never Ending Improvement, a restorative justice program for adolescents. Azim followed up his 1998 award-winning book Azim's Bardo--From Murder To Forgiveness with another book in 2007: From Forgiveness to Fulfillment. Bounce Back, written with Jillian Quinn, was published in 2009 by Bantam Books. Azim offers more of his passions, his book, CD series, and DVDs through his website.)
PEACE cannot be kept by force It can only be achieved by understanding
—Einstein
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