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.

Mark Your Calendars

Tuesday November 12 – Panel discussion at KU – Effects of Concealed Carry on campus

7:00-8:30 pm
Kansas Union, Kansas Room

Saturday November 16 – Community Thanksgiving Dinner

2:00 – 5:00 pm
Grace Tabernacle A.M.E. Church
1812 E. 37th Street
(37th & Michigan Ave.)
Kansas City, MO 64109

Tuesday, November 26   Fundraising Shopping Party: A Benefit for GAGV at STUFF!

5:30-7:00 pm
316 W. 63 Street
15% of gross sales during that time period will be donated to GAGV!

Thursday, November 28 – HAPPY THANKSGIVING

Monday, December 9 – GAGV Monthly Meeting
Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE)

4:00 – 5:45 p.m.
Colonial Church in Prairie Village
7039 Mission Road
(lower level, east side at back)

Barbara Unell, author and educator and expert on ACE will share information about a groundbreaking study.

    News You Can Use 

    Governor signs bill creating Youth Suicide Prevention Coordinator

    A new study finds a striking correlation at the state level between rates of household gun ownership and youth suicide:

    Teen Suicide Rates Are Higher In States Where More People Own Guns

    Interesting approach to gun owners:

    Why Gabby Giffords Is Starting a Gun Control Group for Gun Owners

     A glimmer of hope in the dismal state of Missouri gun regulations – Kansas City attempt to legislate:

    KC mayor wants to take guns away from abusers. Why hasn’t Missouri done this yet?

    But then there’s the MO legislature. Per Steve Kraske’s October 25 Up to Date segment, two state Republican senators say gun control is not the answer to gun violence:

    Missouri Republicans on Guns


    With the holidays fast approaching, giving and giving back often take center stage.

    Here are some easy, fun and meaningful ways you can give GAGV a financial boost in its efforts to promote responsible gun ownership and keep our children and grandchildren safe at home, at school and in our communities.

    Shopping: GAGV can now be designated as your charity of choice to receive .5% of your Amazon purchases through the site’s AmazonSmile program.

    To select GAGV, go to, then click on your account. Look for the box titled ‘Other Programs’ in lower right corner and click on ‘option to change charities.’ Type in Grandparents Against Gun Violence in the search bar. Click on ‘select.’ 

    Remember, to benefit GAGV, all your future Amazon shopping must start from Once you sign up, this is completely seamless and adds no time to your shopping!

    Here’s another great opportunity to give while you get! GAGV and STUFF, that fun, eclectic store in Brookside, are co-hosting a party on Tuesday, November 26 from 5:30-7:00 pm. They provide light refreshments and we provide the shoppers! Bring yourself, your friends and your family to enjoy a fun shopping experience, and GAGV will receive 15% of their gross sales during that time period.

    Giving Tuesday, December 3: Mark your calendar for the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to make an online donation to GAGV and join this world-wide event. Last year’s Giving Tuesday generated $400 million for community groups and charities around the globe. Go to and click on the donate button to make yours. Learn more about how generosity goes viral December 3.

    Holiday Birthdays: Since you’re sure to get plenty of holiday gifts, steer your birthday givers to GAGV using Facebook. Close to your birthday, go to the Home page on Facebook. On the left side column under ‘Explore,’ click on ‘Fundraisers.’ Then click on ‘Raise Money’ and follow the prompts to choose Grandparents Against Gun Violence. Set the amount you hope to raise and write a short description of why supporting GAGV is better than any card or gift. Click on ‘Create,’ post and then enjoy seeing your birthday gifts roll in.

    Year-End Giving: Even with changes in the tax law governing charitable contributions, you can end the year feeling good you’ve supported worthy causes. Any donation to GAGV, large or small, makes a difference. GAGV is a designated 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

    GAGV Membership: It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Your active membership and annual dues support GAGV’s Lock It For Love and other programs to educate the public about gun violence, participate and advocate for needed change. Annual membership is $25 for individuals and $40 for families. Go to and click on ‘Join us.’

    Thank you to these new members who joined in August and September: Rita Leifhelm, Laurie Michie, Lois Penn, Jeanne Rucker and Jerry StogsdillAnd thanks to Nancy Cohn, Kathryn Hockley and Maggie McCoy for renewing their memberships.

    And finally, if you’re stuck for a holiday gift idea or just want to treat yourself, then step right up to the GAGV spirit wear table at the December 9 meeting.

    New items with the GAGV logo now available include one-size-fits-all ball caps for $10, plus zippered hoodies for men and women at $25 each. GAGV polo shirts are also available at $15 each. Shirts and hoodies come in adult sizes of small, medium, large, extra-large and 2XL.|