Tony Hicks was a 14-year-old eighth grade gang member who tried to rob a pizza delivery driver in 1995. That driver, 20-year-old San Diego State University (California) student Tariq Khamisa refused to hand over the pizza so Hicks, at the urging of older gang members, pointed a 9mm handgun at Khamisa and fired—killing him instantly.
Hicks spent the next 24 years in prison for his crime but is now a free man thanks largely to the forgiveness of Khamisa’s father, Azim Khamisa, who says he saw victims on both ends of the gun. In a remarkable story of restorative justice, compassion, and forgiveness, Azim and his daughter Tasreen spoke on behalf of Hicks during his 2018 parole hearing that resulted in his release.
That amazing testimony came about after Azim Khamisa reached out in an act of extraordinary grace and forgiveness to console Hicks’ guardian and grandfather, Ples Felix. When the two men visited a penitent Hicks in prison—a meeting during which Khamisa hugged and forgave Hicks—all three agreed to work together to promote the goals of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation (TKF) that Azim founded shortly after his son’s death.
The mission of the Foundation is to create safer schools and communities by “educating and inspiring children in the restorative principles of accountability, compassion, forgiveness, and peacemaking.” Its Core Values include Integrity, Compassionate Confrontation, and Forgiveness.
“At TKF, we see forgiveness as a process, starting with the acknowledgement that we have been harmed,” says Khamisa. “Through this pain, we tap into the power of forgiveness, the release of resentment. Ultimately, we reach out with love and compassion to the offender.”
TKF services and programs include:
- Peacemaker Assembly – Powerful, interactive school presentations about the consequences of violence and the importance of accountability;
- Restorative Workshops – A 10-session educational series that teaches children how they can manage emotions while practicing compassion and forgiveness;
- Peace Educator Mentoring – One-on-one student mentoring for a school’s most vulnerable students;
- Training Institute – Parent workshops, peace clubs, and others .
According to the TKF website, the organization has delivered more than 500 school presentations, has partnered with more than 300 schools, and is annually reaching more than 10,000 students. Its mentoring program has served more than 2,500 students resulting in a 72% decrease in truancy and a 67% decrease in school disciplinary problems where the program has been implemented.
“Forgiveness brings more balance, peace, compassion and harmony into your life.
As you move beyond the negative experiences of your past you will begin to open up and
create more room to receive more love, joy, happiness, contentment and peace.”
Forgiveness is an important part of all TKF services, according to Tasreen Khamisa who is now the executive director of TKF. She says that while she has forgiven her little brother’s killer, forgiveness did not come either quickly or easily for her.
Although Tasreen’s father, Azim, met and forgave Tony Hicks in 1999, Tasreen was not ready to do so until 2015 — 20 years after her brother’s slaying—when she agreed to meet Hicks at Centinela State Prison (near San Diego). Since that initial meeting, she says, she has forgiven Hicks and has come to see him as a brother.
“I was not there when my father was. And I think that’s OK. Forgiveness is a personal journey,” Tasreen said of her 20-year journey that ended with forgiveness. “I will always love Tariq but I can simultaneously love Tony.”
While Azim Khamisa continues his work with TKF, he has written a book Azim’s Bardo – A Father’s Journey from Murder to Forgiveness. (Editor’s Note: “Bardo” is a Tibetan Buddhist concept Azim came upon shortly after the murder. It is a gap between the end of one life state and the onset of another.) Khamisa has also developed an educational audiovisual program called “Forgiveness – The Crown Jewel of Personal Freedom” in which he writes:
“The forgiveness choice I made in the aftermath of my son’s tragic death has healed me, my family and loved ones. As a result of this work – I enjoy an abundance of personal freedom and am able to contain much joy and compassion in my life. My stress level has almost disappeared. I am confident that this work – followed diligently – can create the same results for you. My best wishes to each of you – who have chosen to courageously embark on this journey and I offer my sincere prayers that the Universe grants you the blessing of forgiveness as it did me!”
Khamisa has also ushered in an extensive “Resources” section on the TKF website that includes links to several of Dr. Robert Enright’s articles promoted through the Great Good Science Center including his step-by-step strategy called “Introducing Kids to Forgiveness” and “How We Think About Forgiveness at Different Ages.”
Newly free from prison, a man who killed at age 14 atones for his past and looks to his future – The San Diego Union-Tribune
Why We Need Forgiveness Education – Psychology Today
Forgiveness Education as a Path to Peace – Corrymeela Magazine (Northern Ireland)