I’m about to tell you a story that somehow was thrust in my path nearly 20 years ago and has never left me. The details of how I came across this story are foggy but that isn’t what matters. What matters is that I know it was no accident that I came to know it, and it has floated to the surface of my consciousness countless times in the past two decades. Lately, I have not been able to let it go; I’m sharing it here because I think you may need to hear it.
In 1995, 20 year old college student, Tariq Khamisa, was doing his job, delivering pizzas in San Diego, CA. What happened at one delivery changed the lives of many. When Tariq went to one particular address it became clear that nobody had the intention of paying for the pizza. Tariq turned around and got back in his car. That’s when an 18 year old gang member put a loaded gun in the hands of 14 year old Tony Hicks and told him to shoot. Tony did. In an instant, Tariq lost his life and Tony became the first child to be tried as an adult in the state of California. Tony pleaded guilty and asked Tariq’s dad, Azim, for forgiveness. He received 25 years in prison.
When I first heard this story, I was 18 years old. Now, as a parent, I replay the scenario in my mind with another layer of emotion, and when I imagine the mountain Azim had to climb every day just to get out of bed, my heart grows in admiration for him.
Now here’s the part of the story that I really want you to hear, because it may add to your life as it has mine.
Azim realized that Tariq was not the only victim of this shooting. There were “victims at both ends of the gun” – Tony Hicks was now going to be raised behind bars.
[Tweet “The quality of the rest of my life would hinge on how I handled this tragedy ~Azim Khamisa”]
This moment of clarity led to Azim reaching out to Tony’s grandfather, Ples Flex, which initiated something beautiful: The Tariq Khamisa Foundation (TKF).
TKF’s goal is to stop youth violence through education, mentorship and community service programs. Since 1995, they have reached millions of kids internationally and have made significant differences in school attendance and behaviour at school.
I ended up writing to Azim Khamisa in 1996 and in response he sent a personalized letter and a package of newspaper articles, brochures and other information. It also turns out that my dad and he were classmates for a short time in Kenya and when Azim was visiting a nearby city the following year, we went to meet him.
Leading up to the time I heard about TKF, I journaled a lot about injustice in the world. There was so much heartache and despair; I so desperately wanted to make a change. “I don’t want to leave this world without making a difference,” I wrote on October 20, 1996. Two months later, I was holding a package from TKF, a real-life example of where that kind of thinking can lead.
In the 18 years that have passed (almost exactly to the day that I received that package from him) a lot has happened in my own life. I have had to forgive people, I have had to say goodbye to people. As a mother, I have had to evaluate my path and learn to follow my dreams. In recent years, I have remembered more clearly the type of person I am, the things I want to say and do and be in this world. TKF has always been like a beacon of hope, a lesson in forgiveness and a prayer for our next generations. It has been a reminder that from what we perceive as injustice there is always an opportunity to rise above and make a difference.
And that’s the story I wanted to share with you this Saturday morning, as the sun rose outside my studio window.