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Azim Khamisa Activist and Author


“It’s a good day when I can speak to kids,” Azim Khamisa tells the crowd of young men and their families gathered in the backyard of a Rancho Santa Fe home. Fourteen years ago, Khamisa lost his only son to a gang member’s bullet. Today, he is sharing how he had turned grief into action, transforming his loss through the power of forgiveness.


A social activist and author, Khamisa is the keynote speaker at the Senior Recognition Ceremony for Teen Volunteers in Action (TVIA), an organization of boys who, together with their families, are committed to developing community leaders through volunteerism and philanthropy.


Khamisa, co-author of The Secrets of the Bulletproof Spirit: How to Bounce Back from Life’s Hardest Hits, is trying to teach the boys how to deal with the rough times in life. “We don’t really prepare our young people to deal with the hard hits,” he says. “For me, the hardest hit was death.”


In January 1995, his son Tariq, a student at San Diego State University, was gunned down by a gang member while delivering pizzas. The killer, Tony Hicks, was just 14 years old. He fired one round, striking Tariq in the armpit, a shot that traveled a “perfect path,” destroying all vital organs. 


“My son died, drowning in his own blood, over a lousy pizza at the age of 20,” says Khamisa. “It was the sudden, senseless death of an unarmed human being, the overwhelming grief of a family.” Khamisa had the heartrending task of calling Tariq’s mother. “How do you tell a mother she will never see her son again?” he asks. “She let out a loud, piercing shriek as she fell to the floor. The sound will haunt me for the rest of my life.”


At the time, Khamisa was an international investment banker who traveled the world, but after Tariq’s death, he could barely get out of bed. Eventually Khamisa was transformed when he realized there were “victims at both ends of the gun.” He came to see Tariq “as a victim of gang violence and his killer, a victim of society.” Khamisa forgave Hicks and teamed up with the boy’s grandfather on “a mission to make sure tragedy does not repeat itself.” 


The Tariq Khamisa Foundation now works “to stop kids from killing kids,” breaking the cycle of gang violence by teaching peacemaking and empowerment. Since 1995, the foundation’s forums on non-violence have reached more than 20 million school children.


Hicks is up for parole in 2027, although Khamisa is urging Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to commute his sentence. No matter when Hicks leaves prison, there’s a job waiting for him at the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, helping to keep kids away from gangs and guns and teaching them how to make good choices in life. 


“There’s nothing quite so painful as a broken heart,” Khamisa tells the TVIA boys and their families. “But a broken heart is an open heart. If one can live with an open heart, quiet transformations can happen.” (www.bulletproofspirit.com)    ANDREA NAVERSEN   


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