Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Preventing Violence - Part 3

See Friday's post for our announcement of this blog's series featuring MVFHR members' work in the area of violence prevention.

Tariq Khamisa was 20 years old when he was killed on a January night in 1995. He was shot while out on his pizza delivery route, the job he’d taken to support himself while studying art at San Diego State University.

His father, Azim Khamisa, was as devastated as any parent would be: “I was crushed by the loss of my son. At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted my life to continue. I went through an agonizing period of trying to understand what course to chart for myself that could possibly have any meaning.”

Tariq’s killer was a 14-year-old gang recruit named Tony Hicks, who became the first juvenile to be tried as an adult in California. He pled guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to 25-years-to-life in an adult prison. For Azim, the young age of the killer added to the horror of an already devastating tragedy. Eventually, that horror ¬ the idea that someone so young could be responsible for a murder – helped Azim see what course he needed to chart in the aftermath.

Azim founded the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, which works to end youth violence through a variety of programs, materials, and activities. The Violence Impact Forum is for students in 4th-9th grades; it looks at the consequences of violence and the possibility of non-violent responses to conflict.

What makes this program so especially powerful and effective is that Azim’s partner in the effort is Ples Felix, Tony Hicks’s grandfather. Seeing these two men who have lost children in different ways up on stage working together and talking about alternatives to violence makes an enormous impression on the young people in the audience.

Tony Hicks makes a strong impression, too. His letters from prison, which express his remorse and urge other young people not to go down the path he went down, are a key component of the TKF programs. “Think of how many kids he may save [through his letters],” Azim says. “That’s going to bring me a lot more healing than if he had gotten the death penalty.”

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