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← What comes after tragedy? Forgiveness

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Showing Revision 5 created 01/19/2018 by Brian Greene.

  1. Azim Khamisa: We humans
    have many defining moments in our lives.
  2. Sometimes these moments are joyous,
  3. and sometimes they are heartbreaking,
  4. tragic.
  5. But at these defining moments,
    if we are able to make the right choice,
  6. we literally manifest a miracle
  7. in us and others.
  8. My only son Tariq, a university student,

  9. kind, generous, a good writer,
    a good photographer,
  10. had aspirations
    to work for National Geographic,
  11. engaged to a beautiful lady,
  12. worked as a pizza deliveryman
    on Fridays and Saturdays.
  13. He was lured to a bogus address
  14. by a youth gang.
  15. And in a gang initiation,
  16. a 14-year-old shot and killed him.
  17. The sudden, senseless death
  18. of an innocent, unarmed human being;
  19. the overwhelming grief of a family;
  20. the total confusion as you try
    to absorb a new, hideous reality.
  21. Needless to say it brought
    my life to a crashing halt.
  22. One of the hardest things
    I've ever had to do
  23. was to call his mother,
    who lived in a different city.
  24. How do you tell a mother
    she's never going to see her son again,
  25. or hear him laugh,
  26. or give him a hug?
  27. I practice as a Sufi Muslim.

  28. I meditate two hours a day.
  29. And sometimes,
  30. in deep trauma and deep tragedy,
  31. there is a spark of clarity.
  32. So what I downloaded in my meditation
  33. is that there were victims
    at both ends of the gun.
  34. It's easy to see that my son
    was a victim of the 14-year-old,
  35. a little bit complicated to see
    that he was a victim of American society.
  36. And that begs the question,
    well, who is American society?
  37. Well, it's you and me,
  38. because I don't believe
    that society is just happenstance.
  39. I think we are all responsible
    for the society we've created.
  40. And children killing children
    is not a mark of a civil society.
  41. So nine months after Tariq died,

  42. I started the Tariq Khamisa Foundation
  43. and our mandate
    at the Tariq Khamisa Foundation
  44. is to stop kids from killing kids
  45. by breaking the cycle of youth violence.
  46. And essentially we have three mandates.
  47. Our first and foremost
    is to save lives of children.
  48. It's important to do.
    We lose so many on a daily basis.
  49. Our second mandate
  50. is to empower the right choices
    so kids don't fall through the cracks
  51. and choose lives of gangs and crime
    and drugs and alcohol and weapons.
  52. And our third mandate is to teach
    the principles of nonviolence,
  53. of empathy, of compassion,
  54. of forgiveness.
  55. And I started with a very simple premise

  56. that violence is a learned behavior.
  57. No child was born violent.
  58. If you accept that as a truism,
  59. nonviolence can also be
    a learned behavior,
  60. but you have to teach it,
  61. because kids are not going to learn that
  62. through osmosis.
  63. Soon after that,
    I reached out to my brother here,

  64. with the attitude
    that we had both lost a son.
  65. My son died.
  66. He lost his grandson
    to the adult prison system.
  67. And I asked him to join me.
  68. As you see, 22 years later,
    we are still here together,
  69. because I can't bring Tariq
    back from the dead,
  70. you can't take Tony out of prison,
  71. but the one thing we can do
  72. is make sure no other young people
    in our community
  73. end up dead or end up in prison.
  74. With the grace of God,

  75. the Tariq Khamisa Foundation
    has been successful.
  76. We have a safe school model
  77. which has four different programs.
  78. The first one is a live assembly
    with Ples and me.
  79. We are introduced,
  80. this man's grandson killed this man's son,
  81. and here they are together.
  82. We have in-classroom curriculum.
  83. We have an after school mentoring program,
    and we create a peace club.
  84. And I'm happy to share with you
  85. that besides teaching
    these principles of nonviolence,
  86. we are able to cut suspensions
    and expulsions by 70 percent,
  87. which is huge.
  88. (Applause)

  89. Which is huge.

  90. Five years after Tariq died,

  91. and for me to complete
    my journey of forgiveness,
  92. I went to see the young man
    who killed my son.
  93. He was 19 years old.
  94. And I remember that meeting
    because we were --
  95. he's 37, still in prison --
  96. but at that first meeting,
    we locked eyeballs.
  97. I'm looking in his eyes,
    he's looking in my eyes,
  98. and I'm looking in his eyes
    trying to find a murderer, and I didn't.
  99. I was able to climb through his eyes
  100. and touch his humanity that I got
  101. that the spark in him
    was no different than the spark in me
  102. or anybody else here.
  103. So I wasn't expecting that.
    He was remorseful.
  104. He was articulate. He was well-mannered.
  105. And I could tell that my hand
    of forgiveness had changed him.
  106. So with that, please welcome
    my brother, Ples.

  107. (Applause)

  108. Ples Felix: Tony is my one
    and only daughter's one and only child.

  109. Tony was born to my daughter,
  110. who was 15 when she gave birth to Tony.
  111. Mothering is the toughest
    job on the planet.
  112. There is no tougher job on the planet
    than raising another human being
  113. and making sure they're safe, secure
  114. and well-positioned
    to be successful in life.
  115. Tony experienced a lot of violence
    in his life as a young kid.
  116. He saw one of his favorite cousins
  117. be murdered in a hail
    of automatic weapon fire
  118. and gang involvement in Los Angeles.
  119. He was very traumatized
    in so many different ways.
  120. Tony came to live with me.
  121. I wanted to make sure
    he had everything a kid needed
  122. to be successful.
  123. But on this particular evening,

  124. after years of being with me
  125. and struggling mightily
    to try to be successful
  126. and to live up to my expectations
    of being a successful person,
  127. on this one particular day,
    Tony ran away from home that evening,
  128. he went to be with people
    he thought were his friends,
  129. he was given drugs and alcohol
  130. and he took them
  131. because he thought
    they would make him feel carefree.
  132. But all it did was
    to make his anxiety go higher
  133. and to create a more ...
  134. more deadly thinking on his part.
  135. He was invited to a robbery,
  136. he was given a 9mm handgun.
  137. And at the presence
    of an 18-year-old who commanded him
  138. and two 14-year-old boys
    he thought were his friends,
  139. he shot and killed Tariq Khamisa,
  140. this man's son.
  141. There are no words, there are no words

  142. that can express the loss of a child.
  143. At my understanding
    that my grandson was responsible
  144. for the murder of this human being,
  145. I went to the prayer closet,
    like I was taught by my old folks,
  146. and began to pray and meditate.
  147. The one thing that Mr. Khamisa
    and I have in common,
  148. and we didn't know this,
    besides being wonderful human beings,
  149. is that we both meditate.
  150. (Laughter)

  151. It was very helpful for me

  152. because it offered me an opportunity
    to seek guidance and clarity
  153. about how I wanted to be of support
    of this man and his family in this loss.
  154. And sure enough, my prayers were answered,
  155. because I was invited
    to a meeting at this man's house,
  156. met his mother, his father,
  157. his wife, his brother, met their family
  158. and had a chance to be in the presence
    of God-spirited people led by this man,
  159. who in the spirit of forgiveness,
  160. made way, made an opportunity for me
  161. to be of value and to share with him
    and to share with children
  162. the importance of understanding the need
    to be with a responsible adult,
  163. focus on your anger
    in a way that's healthy,
  164. learn to meditate.
  165. The programs that we have
    in the Tariq Khamisa Foundation
  166. provide so many tools
    for the kids to put in their toolkit
  167. so they could carry them
    throughout their lives.
  168. It's important that our children
    understand that loving, caring adults
  169. care for them and support them,
  170. but it's also important
    that our children learn to meditate,
  171. learn to be peaceful,
  172. learn to be centered
  173. and learn to interact
    with the other children
  174. in a kind, empathetic
  175. and wonderfully loving way.
  176. We need more love in our society
  177. and that's why we are here
    to share the love with children,
  178. because our children
    will lead the way for us,
  179. because all of us
    will depend on our children.
  180. As we grow older and retire,
    they will take over this world for us,
  181. so as much love as we teach them,
    they will give it back to us.
  182. Blessings. Thank you.

  183. (Applause)

  184. AK: So I was born in Kenya,
    I was educated in England,

  185. and my brother here is a Baptist.
  186. I practice as a Sufi Muslim.
  187. He's African American,
  188. but I always tell him,
    I'm the African American in the group.
  189. I was born in Africa. You were not.
  190. (Laughter)

  191. And I naturalized as a citizen.

  192. I'm a first-generation citizen.
  193. And I felt that, as an American citizen,
  194. I must take my share of the responsibility
  195. for the murder of my son.
  196. Why? Because it was fired
    by an American child.
  197. You could take the position,
    he killed my one and only son,
  198. he should be hung from the highest pole.
  199. How does that improve society?
  200. And I know you are probably wondering
    what happened to that young man.

  201. He's still in prison.
    He just turned 37 on September 22,
  202. but I have some good news.
  203. We've been trying
    to get him out for 12 years.
  204. He finally will join us a year from now.
  205. (Applause)

  206. And I'm very excited to have him join us,

  207. because I know we've saved him,
  208. but he will save
    tens of thousands of students
  209. when he shares his testimony
  210. in schools that we are present at
    on a regular basis.
  211. When he says to the kids,
    "When I was 11, I joined a gang.
  212. When I was 14,
    I murdered Mr. Khamisa's son.
  213. I've spent the last
    umpteen years in prison.
  214. I'm here to tell you: it's not worth it,"
  215. do you think the kids
    will listen to that voice?
  216. Yes, because his intonations
  217. will be of a person
    that pulled the trigger.
  218. And I know that he wants
    to turn the clock back.
  219. Of course, that's not possible.
  220. I wish it was. I would have my son back.
  221. My brother would have his grandson back.
  222. So I think that demonstrates
    the power of forgiveness.
  223. So what's the big takeaway here?

  224. So I want to end
    our session with this quote,
  225. which is the basis of my fourth book,
  226. which incidentally,
  227. the foreword for that book
    was written by Tony.
  228. So it goes like this:
    sustained goodwill creates friendship.
  229. You don't make friends
    by bombing them, right?
  230. You make friends by extending goodwill.
  231. That ought to be obvious.
  232. So sustained goodwill creates friendship,
  233. sustained friendship creates trust,
  234. sustained trust creates empathy,
  235. sustained empathy creates compassion,
  236. and sustained compassion creates peace.
  237. I call this my peace formula.
  238. It starts with goodwill, friendship,
    trust, empathy, compassion and peace.
  239. But people ask me,
    how do you extend goodwill

  240. to the person who murdered your child?
  241. I tell them, you do that
    through forgiveness.
  242. As it's evident it worked for me.
  243. It worked for my family.
  244. What's a miracle is it worked for Tony,
  245. it worked for his family,
  246. it can work for you and your family,
  247. for Israel and Palestine,
    North and South Korea,
  248. for Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Syria.
  249. It can work for
    the United States of America.
  250. So let me leave you with this, my sisters,

  251. and a couple of brothers --
  252. (Laughter)

  253. that peace is possible.

  254. How do I know that?
  255. Because I am at peace.
  256. Thank you very much. Namaste.

  257. (Applause)