In 1995, Tariq Khamisa was delivering pizzas to help pay his expenses at the University of San Diego in California when he was shot and killed by Tony Hicks, a fourteen-year-old gang member. Hicks was sentenced to twenty-five years to life. But to Azim Khamisa, imprisonment of the boy who murdered his twenty-year-old son didn’t feel like justice. “Almost as soon as it happened, I realized there were two victims on each side of that gun,” says Khamisa. “The real culprit was not this young boy, but society. When you look at Tony’s life, you can see the downward spiral happen from the beginning.” So Khamisa forgave Hicks and teamed up with the boy’s grandfather, Ples Felix, to start the Tariq Khamisa Foundation (TKF), which teaches young people about the pain that comes with gang violence.
So far, TKF has reached millions of students in thousands of schools across the U.S., spreading a message of hope, forgiveness, and personal responsibility. Hicks, now twenty-six, has been working with TKF from his prison cell by appearing in videos to warn high school kids about the dangers of gang violence. “In San Diego, there’s been a substantial decrease in gang violence where we’re active,” says Khamisa, adding that they’ve received more than 100,000 letters from students touched by their work. Khamisa is now fighting for Hicks’ early release: “Tony would be a lot more useful to society working for the foundation than rotting in a prison cell. This foundation is a result of forgiveness. It’s better than revenge.”
Photo courtesy of Ode Magazine