10News Leadership Winners: Azim Khamisa and Ples Felix

Posted at 10:52 AM, Aug 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-14 11:03:51-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - If violence is a learned behavior, so too then is non-violence. That’s the philosophy of two San Diego men who have worked together for 24 years to stop violence and save the lives of children.

Azim Khamisa and Ples Felix have a message of peace-making to save the lives of children. The pair teach students in 5th through 9th grades the principles of accountability, empathy, peace building, and, above all, forgiveness.

“We're not going to wake up and be in peace, We must teach restorative practices and create healthy kids, and healthy minds. Children who practice the principles of non-violence and actively commit themselves to becoming peace makers,” said Azim Khamisa.

Khamisa started his journey after tragically losing his only son, Tariq Khamisa, when Tariq was 20 years old. As a college student working part-time, Tariq was lured to a gang house to deliver a pizza and fatally shot by then 14-year-old Tony Hicks.

“It was like a nuclear bomb went off in my heart and I was broken into millions of small pieces. Violence is very real. It cuts deep and scars the soul,” Khamisa said.

Khamisa founded the Tariq Khamisa Foundation to teach non-violence and took the extraordinary step of reaching out to Tony Hicks’ grandfather, Ples Felix.

“I’m not here in a spirit of revenge...I'm here in the spirit of forgiveness because we both lost a son,” said Khamisa.

Felix said he was praying for a way to reach out to the Khamisa family and provide support. He saw this as an answered prayer and accepted Khamisa’s hand of forgiveness.

“To go forward in a way that in my life is totally unassociated with respect to that kind of trauma. I wanted to be with Azim's family...and commit to be of service any way I could,” said Felix.

That was 24 years ago. The two men say they are now closer than brothers. Their safe school model is a 10-week curriculum, teaching lessons on empathy and compassion along with conflict resolution. The program also brings a peace club and leadership program to the schools.

The results are staggering. The program has been shown to cut truancy and expulsion rates by 68 percent and increase conflict resolution peacefully by more than 90 percent.

Khamisa and Felix have reached almost 600,000 students and, through digital and television coverage, the figure is easily into the millions.

Former students such as Rocio Hernandez credit the program with saving her from despair, violent revenge, and thoughts that life isn’t precious.

“On the way home from school I was attacked by gang members...I was only in the 7th grade. That could have been a turning point in my life. I could have turned violent myself. It’s crazy how the Tariq Khamisa Foundation came into my life at the right time. I remember coming out of that assembly empowered like I could take on the world,” said Hernandez.

Hernandez now lives a positive, productive life and speaks to young people about her journey to happiness.

It’s a journey that started with forgiveness, which Khamisa calls a gift you give yourself.

“Mandela has a great quote: Resentment is like taking poison, and waiting for your enemy to die.”