Unimaginable Act of Forgiveness Turns into Thriving Foundation Impacting Students in Sweetwater District
If you asked Azim Khamisa before his son was murdered that he’d be running a successful foundation based on the act of forgiveness, with the grandfather of the man who killed his son, he would likely have answered; no.
Recently, students at Hilltop Middle School had the opportunity to participate in a “Peacemakers Assembly” organized by the Tariq Khamisa Foundation.
On the night of January 21, 1995, Khamisa’s son was murdered by the grandson of Ples Felix in Balboa Park. Felix’s grandson was the first minor to be tried as adult in California. Months after the crime, the two men met and Felix pleaded for forgiveness on behalf of his grandson. To his surprise, Tariq’s father granted his request — and made his own plea. “I want to see if you can help me,” Khamisa said.
Since that day, the Tariq Khamisa Foundation has worked to eliminate youth violence, delivering a message of peace and respect to millions of students across the globe. According to Khamisa, forgiveness to him meant transforming his anger and hurt into healing and peace.
“Violence scars the soul,” Khamisa said. “The loss of my son put me on the path to help other young people make good and non-violent choices in life. That’s what the foundation is all about.”
As Khamisa and Felix shared their story, students at Hilltop Middle attentively listened to the two men explain the path they both journeyed together. “It’s such an honor and privilege to have the Khamisa Foundation here with us,” said Louie Zumstein, Hilltop Middle Principal. “Teaching students about conflict resolution and the idea of Restorative Practices is so important especially at this stage of life.”
Zumstein and other Sweetwater District administrators believe in the work of the foundation so much that 7th graders at Hilltop Middle have already began a 10-session educational series called Restorative Workshops. The series teaches students important skills such as; how to manage their emotions, accountability for one’s actions, comprehension of making amends, practicing compassion and forgiveness. Students will also participate in active student lead discussions as well as share personal views, opinions and experiences on various topics.
“Khamisa and Felix’s story is so inspiring and heartwarming,” said Natalie Cruz, Hilltop Middle Restorative Coordinator. “My hope is that our students take away positive key tools to navigate their way through dealing with real life situations.”
When asked what Tariq would think about the work he’s doing in his honor, Khamisa replied, “Proud. Tariq practiced forgiveness and compassion every day. I believe he would be proud that I decided to turn a devastating situation into a positive one changing the lives of young people.”