We humans have many defining moments in our lives. Sometimes these moments are joyous, and sometimes they are heartbreaking, tragic. But at these defining moments, if we are able to make the right choice, we literally manifest a miracle in us and others.
My only son Tariq, a university student, kind, generous, a good writer, a good photographer, had aspirations to work for National Geographic, engaged to a beautiful lady, worked as a pizza deliveryman on Fridays and Saturdays. He was lured to a bogus address by a youth gang. And in a gang initiation, a 14-year-old shot and killed him. The sudden, senseless death of an innocent, unarmed human being; the overwhelming grief of a family; the total confusion as you try to absorb a new, hideous reality. Needless to say it brought my life to a crashing halt. One of the hardest things I've ever had to do was to call his mother, who lived in a different city. How do you tell a mother she's never going to see her son again, or hear him laugh, or give him a hug?
I practice as a Sufi Muslim. I meditate two hours a day. And sometimes, in deep trauma and deep tragedy, there is a spark of clarity. So what I downloaded in my meditation is that there were victims at both ends of the gun. It's easy to see that my son was a victim of the 14-year-old, a little bit complicated to see that he was a victim of American society. And that begs the question, well, who is American society? Well, it's you and me, because I don't believe that society is just happenstance. I think we are all responsible for the society we've created. And children killing children is not a mark of a civil society.
So nine months after Tariq died, I started the Tariq Khamisa Foundation and our mandate at the Tariq Khamisa Foundation is to stop kids from killing kids by breaking the cycle of youth violence. And essentially we have three mandates. Our first and foremost is to save lives of children. It's important to do. We lose so many on a daily basis. Our second mandate is to empower the right choices so kids don't fall through the cracks and choose lives of gangs and crime and drugs and alcohol and weapons. And our third mandate is to teach the principles of nonviolence, of empathy, of compassion, of forgiveness.
And I started with a very simple premise that violence is a learned behavior. No child was born violent. If you accept that as a truism, nonviolence can also be a learned behavior, but you have to teach it, because kids are not going to learn that through osmosis.
Soon after that, I reached out to my brother here, with the attitude that we had both lost a son. My son died. He lost his grandson to the adult prison system. And I asked him to join me. As you see, 22 years later, we are still here together, because I can't bring Tariq back from the dead, you can't take Tony out of prison, but the one thing we can do is make sure no other young people in our community end up dead or end up in prison.
With the grace of God, the Tariq Khamisa Foundation has been successful. We have a safe school model which has four different programs. The first one is a live assembly with Ples and me. We are introduced, this man's grandson killed this man's son, and here they are together. We have in-classroom curriculum. We have an after school mentoring program, and we create a peace club. And I'm happy to share with you that besides teaching these principles of nonviolence, we are able to cut suspensions and expulsions by 70 percent, which is huge.
Five years after Tariq died, and for me to complete my journey of forgiveness, I went to see the young man who killed my son. He was 19 years old. And I remember that meeting because we were—he's 37, still in prison—but at that first meeting, we locked eyeballs. I'm looking in his eyes, he's looking in my eyes, and I'm looking in his eyes trying to find a murderer, and I didn't. I was able to climb through his eyes and touch his humanity that I got that the spark in him was no different than the spark in me or anybody else here. So I wasn't expecting that. He was remorseful. He was articulate. He was well-mannered. And I could tell that my hand of forgiveness had changed him.
So with that, please welcome my brother, Ples.
Tony is my one and only daughter's one and only child. Tony was born to my daughter, who was 15 when she gave birth to Tony. Mothering is the toughest job on the planet. There is no tougher job on the planet than raising another human being and making sure they're safe, secure and well-positioned to be successful in life. Tony experienced a lot of violence in his life as a young kid. He saw one of his favorite cousins be murdered in a hail of automatic weapon fire and gang involvement in Los Angeles. He was very traumatized in so many different ways. Tony came to live with me. I wanted to make sure he had everything a kid needed to be successful.
But on this particular evening, after years of being with me and struggling mightily to try to be successful and to live up to my expectations of being a successful person, on this one particular day, Tony ran away from home that evening, he went to be with people he thought were his friends, he was given drugs and alcohol and he took them because he thought they would make him feel carefree. But all it did was to make his anxiety go higher and to create a more...more deadly thinking on his part. He was invited to a robbery, he was given a 9mm handgun. And at the presence of an 18-year-old who commanded him and two 14-year-old boys he thought were his friends, he shot and killed Tariq Khamisa, this man's son.
There are no words, there are no words that can express the loss of a child. At my understanding that my grandson was responsible for the murder of this human being, I went to the prayer closet, like I was taught by my old folks, and began to pray and meditate. The one thing that Mr. Khamisa and I have in common, and we didn't know this, besides being wonderful human beings, is that we both meditate.
It was very helpful for me because it offered me an opportunity to seek guidance and clarity about how I wanted to be of support of this man and his family in this loss. And sure enough, my prayers were answered, because I was invited to a meeting at this man's house, met his mother, his father, his wife, his brother, met their family and had a chance to be in the presence of God-spirited people led by this man, who in the spirit of forgiveness, made way, made an opportunity for me to be of value and to share with him and to share with children the importance of understanding the need to be with a responsible adult, focus on your anger in a way that's healthy, learn to meditate. The programs that we have in the Tariq Khamisa Foundation provide so many tools for the kids to put in their toolkit so they could carry them throughout their lives. It's important that our children understand that loving, caring adults care for them and support them, but it's also important that our children learn to meditate, learn to be peaceful, learn to be centered and learn to interact with the other children in a kind, empathetic and wonderfully loving way. We need more love in our society and that's why we are here to share the love with children, because our children will lead the way for us, because all of us will depend on our children. As we grow older and retire, they will take over this world for us, so as much love as we teach them, they will give it back to us. Blessings. Thank you.
So I was born in Kenya, I was educated in England, and my brother here is a Baptist. I practice as a Sufi Muslim. He's African American, but I always tell him, I'm the African American in the group. I was born in Africa. You were not.
And I naturalized as a citizen. I'm a first-generation citizen. And I felt that, as an American citizen, I must take my share of the responsibility for the murder of my son. Why? Because it was fired by an American child. You could take the position, he killed my one and only son, he should be hung from the highest pole. How does that improve society?
And I know you are probably wondering what happened to that young man. He's still in prison. He just turned 37 on September 22, but I have some good news. We've been trying to get him out for 12 years. He finally will join us a year from now.
And I'm very excited to have him join us, because I know we've saved him, but he will save tens of thousands of students when he shares his testimony in schools that we are present at on a regular basis. When he says to the kids, "When I was 11, I joined a gang. When I was 14, I murdered Mr. Khamisa's son. I've spent the last umpteen years in prison. I'm here to tell you: it's not worth it," do you think the kids will listen to that voice? Yes, because his intonations will be of a person that pulled the trigger. And I know that he wants to turn the clock back. Of course, that's not possible. I wish it was. I would have my son back. My brother would have his grandson back. So I think that demonstrates the power of forgiveness.
So what's the big takeaway here? So I want to end our session with this quote, which is the basis of my fourth book, which incidentally, the foreword for that book was written by Tony. So it goes like this: sustained goodwill creates friendship. You don't make friends by bombing them, right? You make friends by extending goodwill. That ought to be obvious. So sustained goodwill creates friendship, sustained friendship creates trust, sustained trust creates empathy, sustained empathy creates compassion, and sustained compassion creates peace. I call this my peace formula. It starts with goodwill, friendship, trust, empathy, compassion and peace.
But people ask me, how do you extend goodwill to the person who murdered your child? I tell them, you do that through forgiveness. As it's evident it worked for me. It worked for my family. What's a miracle is it worked for Tony, it worked for his family, it can work for you and your family, for Israel and Palestine, North and South Korea, for Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Syria. It can work for the United States of America.
So let me leave you with this, my sisters, and a couple of brothers—that peace is possible. How do I know that? Because I am at peace. Thank you very much. Namaste.