The following letter was sent to TKF after a Violence Impact Forum (VIF). The author is Patricia Ladd, the principal at Correia Middle School. She has very eloquently described how our work at TKF changes the lives of so many kids.
Dear Trustees of TKF:
As Principal of Correia Middle School (CMS) a comprehensive middle school for 7th – 8th graders in one of our nation’s largest urban districts, I have an opportunity to interact daily with youngsters between the ages of 11-14 years of age. According to many expert opinions, this stage of life is one of the most challenging. In fact, I have yet to meet any adult who would choose to relive this “coming of age” chapter in their life. For this single reason, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the work all of you do on behalf of everyone – young or old. On January 13, 2010, the Tariq Khamisa Foundation (TKF) brought their “Violence Impact Forum” program to CMS. Over 830 young adolescents, their teachers, counselors, and administrators listened with the utmost respect to the powerful messages delivered by Azim Khamisa, Ples Felix, and other panelists from the program. It is with extreme gratitude that I communicate with you the impact that the TKF had upon lives that day alone at CMS.
One day earlier, two of our students bullied and punched another student. Their motive remains unclear to any of the students, which is not altogether unusual at this age. Power and dominance over others equates to respect and survival for some. My Vice-Principals and I were outraged at this act of violence, and left the campus on the evening of January 12th with heavy hearts. The next morning, we met with the assailants and issued consequences, including: suspension, letters of apology, and verbal public apologies to peers. However, our attention was also drawn to the panelists from TKF who were arriving on campus. I hurried over to our library to greet the panelists, including our own student ambassadors, and momentarily forgot about the violent act that had taken place less than 24 hours on my own campus. Mr. Ples Felix’s genuine warmth and sincerity filled the room, and although moments earlier I had been troubled, I suddenly felt calm. Once I knew that our guests had the refreshments we’d ordered, I returned to the office to resume my interactions with our two assailants.
I do not want to downplay what took place next. Whatever happened in the brief moments I had spent in the presence of the TKF members allowed me to think more clearly about how to support, rather than to simply punish, the two adolescents who had hurt another adolescent. It became crystal clear to me that these two youngsters needed to hear the messages about to be delivered by the members of the “Violence Impact Forum.” Know that I had never attended any programs sponsored by TKF; I was simply responding to the calm feeling I had received moments earlier while in the presence of a few of the panelists. Therefore, much to the surprise of both boys, I told them they would be attending the assembly. Their assignment was to take notes in order to write a reflective response, which I would personally read.
Both boys were seated in the back of the auditorium, seats and rows apart from one another and their classmates. They were the only students mandated to take notes, so they had paper and pencils in hand. Once the presentation started, I was so focused on the speakers that I didn’t turn to check on “my boys” until almost mid-way through the program. As I approached each of them to check on their progress, their countenance gave me my first clue that something was taking hold within their hearts. Their previously tough demeanor was replaced by an innocent and childlike expression. Instead of asking them for evidence that they were taking notes, each boy quietly held out his notebook, and I saw clearly that their eyes were moist with tears. I respectfully thanked them for their attentiveness and quietly returned my attention to the presentation.
Once back from the presentation, a guest presenter, Jesus Gonzalez, Jr., a former gang member who survived a violent gang attack, came to the office to meet with both boys. They held a private 45-minute session behind closed doors, and it’s clear that Mr. Gonzalez left the boys with contact information should they need/want to call upon him for support. Jesus also met with me briefly, and I thanked him for the work he is doing.
Both boys wrote pages in response to the TKF presentation. They both admitted that their own anger had robbed them of their ability to think—a lesson they learned from the presentation. Now I know that my counselors and staff can build upon this one learned lesson and empower more and more youngsters to learn how to calm down and think before taking action.
On a personal note, at the end of the presentation, I had the opportunity to hug both Azim Khamisa and Ples Felix. Until January 13, 2010, we had never met. How is it that I feel so connected to both of them and to their son and grandson? As a foundation, that is the power of your energies—you are connecting complete strangers. You are connecting people who hold different religious beliefs, who have different skin color, and who don’t appear to have much in common, at all. Words elude me as to how to express my deepest appreciation and respect for the work you do. I also thank your sponsors and salute their wisdom to fund TKF.
I acknowledge that your salutations include: “In Peace,” and “With Kindest Regards of Peace.” You made a difference in at least two lives ( and I know many others) on January 13, 2010, and I THANK YOU for your work.
Putting Children First,
Correia Middle School