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Today, July 7, 2012, marks the six-year anniversary of Khalid Mohammed’s death. On July 6, 2009, Jorge Pena, a member of a gang called the Maniac Latin Disciples, was found guilty of the murder of Khalid. I spent July 1 and 2, 2009 with Afaf Ahmed, Khalid’s mother, at the courthouse in Chicago to lend support in her time of need. Her strength serves as an inspiration during these difficult times and reminds me of what truly matters in life.
Khalid’s story reminds all of us what is at stake for many of the kids I served in Chicago and try to here in Cincinnati. He joined the circus in 2004 after emigrating to the U.S. from Sudan. His mother wanted him to flee the violence and eventual military service of his country and seek education and opportunity in the U.S. Afaf had worked for Legal Aid at the American University in Cairo.
As a recent refugee, Khalid wanted to fit in and fell under the peer pressure of street gangs. While spending two months in juvenile detention, Khalid’s probation officer discovered from Khalid’s school principal that his behavior was exemplary on Mondays and Wednesdays. On those days he would come to the circus, where he learned to juggle, ride the unicycle, walk on the rolling globe and, with help from the lead tutor Felicity Hessed, improve his English comprehension and acquisition.
As part of Khalid’s probation, he attended circus twice a week. He continued to work on his skills and was assigned various tasks such as peddling through Uptown on his unicycle to hang posters announcing the upcoming Annual Spring Circus. I also offered him a job as a teen apprentice, teaching with me at the Francis W. Parker School in hopes that the opportunity would give him the direction he needed. Despite my efforts, Khalid was drifting. His last day at the circus was spent passing juggling rings with his friend Mason in early June. On July 7, 2006, Khalid was shot and killed in an alley in Logan Square, Chicago.
On August 8, 2007, at 7:07 pm, my son, Lucas Khalid, was born on Khalid’s birthday. Khalid’s story, memory and family have remained an important part of my life. Helping kids like Khalid overcome obstacles and embrace opportunities has been my mission and vision. The world needs fewer kids on the streets and more kids in great schools, clubs, circuses and other positive arenas that encourage them to dream on. This idea has motivated my work, and I truly hope the spirit behind that work continues to thrive.~Paul
Our family continues to connect with Afaf; last summer we celebrated Lucas and Khalid at a concert in Millennium Park (below).