6th ANNUAL COMMUNITY FORUM – AN INSPIRATIONAL SUCCESS
The more than 275 people who attended the Heartland Coalition Against Gun Violence’s sixth annual Community Forum last month heard emotional first-person testimony of how gun violence irreparably changes the lives of victims, perpetrators and those who contend with its devastating aftermath.
Right: US Representative Sharice Davids welcomes us to the Forum
Keynote speakers Azim Khamisa and Ples Felix (pictured below) recounted the gun violence in California that brought them together 25 years ago when Ples’ 14-year-old grandson Tony, who had fallen in with a gang, shot and killed Azim’s 20-year-old son Tariq, a college student working part-time delivering pizzas.
“In every tragedy there is a spark of clarity and I came to understand there were victims at both ends of the gun,” Azim told hushed Forum attendees gathered at the BEST Conference Center on the KU Edwards campus. “My mission became preventing kids from killing kids.”
Our fabulous panelists with Ples and Azim.
Toward that end, Azim started the Tariq Khamisa Foundation that teaches peaceful, non-violent solutions to problems and emphasizes forgiveness over revenge. Azim and Ples have shared their story with thousands of at-risk students, their teachers and parents and have given hundreds of presentations in churches, during national conferences and even at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, KS.
“If you believe in ‘an eye for an eye’ then soon the whole world will be blind,” Azim told the attentive audience at the Forum. “Violence always makes things worse, never better. There is a better way through love, compassion and forgiveness.”
Following Azim’s and Ples’ morning presentation, Forum participants heard from a panel of first responders, with as Q & A session afterwards moderated by Nick Haines of KCPT public television:
- Dr. Rob Winfield, a trauma surgeon at KU Medical Center, described telling a mother her gunshot victim son had died in the operating room.
- Sgt. Johnita Harris of KCPD and mother of two sons, said working gun crime scenes involving children is especially difficult.
- Rev. David McDaniel of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, MO and a former chaplain at Children’s Mercy Hospital, admitted sometimes the best he can do is “simply be there in the moment” for families struggling with grief.
Speakers in the afternoon breakout sessions continued adding insights into the effects of gun violence and gave Forum participants the opportunity to ask questions of each presenter.
- Becky Wiseman, a social worker at Children’s Mercy Hospital, described her work with a friendless, potentially suicidal high school student and how regular contact plus counseling prevented him harming himself or others.
- GAGV member Nancy Oglesby shared her family’s emotional journey after the shooting death of her missing grandson and the trial of the shooter that followed.
- Sophomore Luciana Deanda of Olathe East High School and senior Sari Kaufman, a survivor of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, discussed students’ ongoing worry about potential gun violence in their respective buildings and the ensuing anxiety and stress they and their classmates feel.
- Jennifer Levinson, a school teacher for 25 years and now a mental health advocate for SPEAK UP (Suicide Prevention Education Awareness for Kids United as Partners), described what led to her suicide attempts and how she uses her experiences to help others who are struggling.
Also recognized at the Forum were Advocates of the Year Charlotte and Bruce Davison (individual) and The Kansas City Star (organization). This year’s Forum was supported in part by 77 individual sponsors and 30 community organizations whose membership represents close to 10,000 residents in the metro area.
It really was a Forum weekend. Sunday night we hosted a Patron Reception at the 1900 Building to thank our individual and organization sponsors. Almost 100 people attended and had the opportunity to personally meet Azim and Ples.
Barb McNeile and Chris Glenski show Patron Reception sponsors and guests the elements of the successful Lock It For Love program, now in its third year of promoting gun safety by distributing educational materials and gun locks.
The day after the Forum, Azim spoke to more than 150 middle school students at University Academy in Kansas City telling them his story and encouraging them to become “non-violent leaders and committed peace-builders.” Hear more from Azim and read The Kansas City Star editorial that echoes his call for change: 25 local teens killed by gun violence. KC Mayor Lucas: ‘That’s a monumental failure’
Azim and Anthony Butler together at the University Academy with Leah Banks, Director of Security and Judy Sherry, President of GAGV.
All in all, it was a wonderful experience for everyone – we loved Azim and Ples, and the feeling was mutual! “I fell in love with the warm-hearted, wonderful people in KC,” Azim wrote in a later email to GAGV president Judy Sherry. “I’m still high from a wonderful trip to your lovely city.”
Visit our Facebook page and website to see more photos, then mark your 2020 calendar for next year’s Forum, to be held on Monday, October 12, 2020.