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October 28, 1999
Mahatma's Weapon Disarms The Violent
As a 14-year-old boy was being charged with the murder of 20-year-old Tariq Khamisa, the father of the victim knew deep inside his heart, "America had lost two children that night."
There were "victims on both sides of the gun" Azim Khamisa says recalling his son's death in a botched robbery five years ago in San Diego. A student at San Diego State University, Tariq used to work at the weekends delivering pizza and earning extra money.
Azim Khamisa would not let his son's death remain just a tragedy.
He decided to reach out to the family of Tony Hicks in forgiveness. And with the help of Ples Felix, Hicks's grandfather and guardian, he founded the Khamisa Foundation to spread awareness about violence and to honor those who took the non-violent road.
In an earlier interview, Ples Felix said that he was worried about meeting Khamisa. "It was difficult. I didn't know what to expect, " Felix had said. His grandson, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison, will be eligible for parole in 2017. Hicks became the youngest person in California to be charged as an adult in a murder.
Once Khamisa and Felix decided to work together, the foundation sought the help of Arun Gandhi, a grandson of the Mahatma who runs a Gandhi Insatiate at the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee.
Mahatma's exhortation, "We must become the change we wish to see in the world", would become the motto of the foundation.
The unusual alliance slowly gained national attention as Khamisa and Felix visited San Diego schools to talk to children about guns, violence and forgiveness, and started saluting at an annual fund-raiser the people who made a difference in their neighborhoods, schools or workplaces.
Three years ago, at a Stand for Children Rally in Washington DC, 250,000 people applauded, cheered and cried when Khamisa told the story of his son. He also said he believed that Hicks can one day be a valuable member of society.
Two-and-a-half years ago Attorney General Janet Reno honored the foundation. Khamisa and Felix were among the 16 honorees who received the Crime Service Victim Awards. They were among the 200 people nominated for the awards. The winners were picked by the Justice Department as part of the observation of National Crime Victims Week Funded by a federal grant of $ 100,000, the four-year-old program has reached 12 San Diego schools and 9,000 children.
It plans to reach out to fourth-fifth-and-sixth-graders, in the new millennium at 50 schools. Khamisa says most of next year's $ 450,000 has been raised.
Daughter Tasreen helps Khamisa, an investment banker with Sovereign Capital Markets Inc, in running the foundation.
The partnership of Khamisa and Felix, apart from giving the family a chance to keep Tariq's name alive, "has made my family heal", Tasreen said.
"We think that gang members are inner-city kids from backgrounds of poverty and little education. But that is not true. We have all kinds of children in gangs," Khamisa said.
The program presented in schools is a two-phase one. It shows a videotape called 'Too Many Victims,' which includes a testimony from Hicks and parents, brothers, sisters of students who were victims of violence.
Two weeks ago, Cruz Carrasco, who was headed to a major university on a football scholarship when he was shot in the head, became yet another recipient of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation.
Carrasco, who uses a computerized voice and is wheel-bound explained why he started the 'Their Bullet, My Life,' an outreach program about gun violence.
Still, the odds the foundation faces are daunting. According to published statistics, between 1984 and 1993, the number of juveniles charged with murder or attempted murder in the United States has risen from 10 to 85.
Khamisa is not intimidated by the enormity of the problem.
"We have neglected our responsibility to children. I want them to become heroes, not youngsters. It's every parent's wish, " Khamisa said.
"I want to come true. I want our children to be untouched by violence. I promise to work towards it."
For more information, call 1-888-435-7853 or write to The Tariq Khamisa 568. Foundation, Dept P. 550 W C St., Suite 1700, San Diego, Calif., 92101-3. The tragedy revisited
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