Community Café: REACHing Beyond…

IMAN’s Community Café has been transcending barriers throughout different communities for almost a decade.  It is a movement that touches the soul and ignites the mind.  People come to Community Café to enjoy the music and arts, receive a message, and leave enlightened after experiencing a spiritual bond with the artists and each other.  It is a bond that exists across religious, racial, ethnic and cultural differences; a bond that flourishes because the arts touch the soul, the tie that binds us all.  D.C. welcomes that spiritual energy and is starving for such human connection.

The Community Café in D.C. hopes to be a platform for interconnected consciousness in an often fractured environment.  It is also an opportunity for local artists to display their talents in front of their hometown, which provides D.C. natives a chance to see a positive reflection of their own selves.  The theme, REACH Beyond…, exemplifies the importance of such positive reflection.  The theme mirrors the need for people to “reach beyond” the norm, beyond their own selves and hold onto the positive messages that promote a healthy community life.  These messages resonate with the mission of Project REACH (Realizing Effective Alliances for Community Hope).

Inspired by Muslim principles of mercy, compassion, service, and justice, Project REACH seeks to address the challenges and struggles confronting marginalized urban communities in the Washington, D.C. area.  Through exposure to stimulating environments such as the “Fall Mountain Retreat,” youth talks and community service, Project REACH youth are inspired to work for positive social change in their communities.  The opportunity for Project REACH youth to experience a Community Café enhances their past experiences and further actualizes the mission of Project REACH; a mission that is a reflection of IMAN’s legacy, and a mission that relies on building bridges within communities.

The collaboration of IMAN and Project REACH over D.C.’s first Community Café demonstrates the power of working together. IMAN, being the veteran establishment in this union, has allowed Project REACH to benefit from their brand of hard work to create an uplifting, family-friendly atmosphere that is sure to nourish the community.  The union is a model for more organizations to arm their forces in an effort to promote positive social change.

Lastly, change does not come easily and is often resisted. It takes constant determination, unity and dedication to move people.  The desired outcome of this experience is one that will cultivate the opportunity for future partnership with IMAN.  We hope that it will be a partnership that fuels the power of breaking down problematic social barriers in the spirit of positive change. Our experience with this Community Café has the potential to create effective alliances and – REACHing Beyond… – help sustain hope in and for our local community.

To learn more about Project REACH, please visit the website: www.dcprojectreach.org.

The War of Nutrition: Youth Taking Action

“This conference has taught me a lot about nutrition and how food plays a large role in my development overall ,and I want to become more active in the Muslim Run Campaign,” says Miriam, an IMAN youth leader and participant in IMAN’s current youth literacy program.  Over the past two months, IMAN and its youth leaders have been deeply engaged in conversations around food justice with a host of other organizations around the city.   Miriam was speaking after one of the two SHIFT (Shaping our Health by Influencing Food Trends) conferences held recently by the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  These youth advocacy conferences deal with the direct impact of large corporations that market unhealthy foods in low-income communities, especially targeting the youth in these communities.

SHIFT is a national campaign and includes young people from Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore, MD, Birmingham, AL and Durham, NC.  Its aim is to educate youth about unequal food marketing practices that disproportionately target them with unhealthy foods and beverages, and equip them with the necessary tools to begin a counter-marketing campaign that SHIFTs the demand for unhealthy foods and beverages in their community.  This level of training and development is critical for IMAN’s Muslim Run Campaign and our youth leaders to better understand the importance of shaping food trends in corner stores.

The SHIFT conference had hip hop performances, spoken word, African drummers and informative speakers.  It ended with youth breaking into focus groups and training workshops to get more educated about food trends in their communities and the affects these have on their overall physical and intellectual development.

Miriam now sits on the steering committee for IMAN’s Muslim Run: A Campaign for Health, Wellness and Healing.  She also went down to the State Capitol in Springfield this past March for the Illinois Muslim Action Day to deliver Muslim Run campaign material to legislatures.  With childhood obesity still on the rise in the US, IMAN believes that it is critical to both educate and enable young people to live healthier life-styles.

Our education track leaders, youth and adults, are gearing up for summer activities around two of our partner corner stores in the month of Ramadan (third week of July to third week of August).  Based on and inspired by what the youth learned from these conferences, they will implement their knowledge on the ground in their communities over a period of four weeks in the summer.   It will allow IMAN to begin shifting the paradigm around food choices, and help everyone understand why we want to become healthier and take back our communities.

Equal Voice Online National Convention 2012

On Sunday, May 20, IMAN leaders joined over fifteen thousand families across the country for the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s first ever Equal Voice Online National Convention, a dynamic and interactive forum that utilized social media and texting to reach American families all over the globe. The convention brought together working families and community organizations to vote on the issues that they felt were most important to their daily lives. Over 5,000 families voted, and education, healthcare, and jobs emerged as the three top priorities for American families. The convention was broadcasted live from Alabama, Texas, and Washington State, and viewing parties were held in 30 states.

IMAN’s engagement with the Equal Voice campaign has been part of our multi-ethnic and multi-issue community organizing under the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO) umbrella.  The launch of the Equal Voice campaign was punctuated by the release of a National Family Platform just before the 2008 presidential election.  This Platform was a model for UCCRO’s own Grassroots Human Rights Policy Guide for Racial Equity, released and distributed to Illinois legislators in 2010.  The goal of this Online National Convention was to update the Equal Voice for America’s Families National Family Platform for 2012.

Kenwood Oakland Community Organization—a member organization of UCCRO—hosted the townhall  that IMAN leaders attended on Chicago’s South Side, and leaders from several different UCCRO member organizations engaged in the very lively conversation about their own priorities as families and community members of Chicago neighborhoods. Though some believed that education was key to eliminating the violence, plummeting employment rates, and unhealthy lifestyles that plague America’s cities, and others posited that without proper housing and access to quality healthcare, good education and physical health were unattainable, UCCRO leaders could all agree upon the fact that all of the issues their communities face are interconnected and can only be tackled by understanding the links between them and addressing the issues holistically.

The Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voice for America’s Families National Platform is attempting to do just that and as a grantee of the Foundation, IMAN has been committed to realizing and enhancing the connections between each of the issues it works on and between each of the organizations it is in alliance with. The online convention not only allowed diverse communities across Chicagoland to discuss their own priorities, but helped to forge the road ahead for justice for all of America’s working families.

Community Café Rebuilds and Reclaims

Community Café: Rebuild not only hit the right notes musically and artistically for me, but it also hit upon a theme and an idea that I have been thinking much about recently: the relationship between the lands and spaces we claim as ours, and the many personal and social crises that we face in our lives and in our communities.  It may be that one way of turning many of these crises around is to imagine and create new relationships with our lands and spaces.  We need to reclaim our spaces and rebuild our places, if we are to transform our communities.

If imagination and creativity is what we need, then April’s Community Café had plenty of both on display.  From spoken word, to world fusion and hip hop music, to visual art, the audience was treated to an entertaining and thought-provoking show all evening.  Vintage Community Café stuff, and perfectly timed too, Saturday, April 21 being the night before Earth Day.

The evening started with spoken-word artist and community builder Mark Gonzales setting the tone with his rhymes about “homes, ‘hoods and hearts,” and of course “healing.” He spit verses that were about stolen lands and stolen lives, and about resiliency and resistance. But, ultimately, his poetry was about transformation and transcendence. The audience certainly seemed transformed by the powerful stuff.

Next up was Zeshan Bagewadi with his new band Zamin, which means earth or land in Hindi.  Bagewadi has been a favorite of Café audiences for a while, but few in the audience that night could have really known what a treat they were in for, with Zamin’s blending of western classical instruments and Bagewadi’s fresh take on some classic South Asian poetry.  This musical fusion reflects the authentic and imaginative crossover experiences of the band members and does not sound contrived; fusion done right.  It is easy to see great things in the future for this young band.

Talking of Café audience favorites and a great future, hip hop duo-couple Big Samir and Aja Black of The ReMINDers brought the crowd – or at least a part of it – to its feet, as they always do, when they mixed some of our most favorite songs, from their first album, “Recollect,” with new songs from the upcoming sophomore album, during their set that closed out the evening.  While it is always moving, literally, to hear The ReMINDers sing anything from “Recollect,” the tracks they played off the upcoming album left us waiting eagerly for its release.

While The ReMINDers brought many of us to our feet, what brought the house down at the end of the show was a song that they collaborated on with Zeshan Bagewadi.  Three great vocalists, two languages, one great song!

We were surrounded not only by great music that night, but also by beautiful visual art from Asma Inam, an up and coming graphic designer from Canada.  Visual art is a powerful way to reclaim spaces, public and private, from neighborhoods to places of worship.  In that spirit, Inam created live art during the show called “Rebuild, Reclaim.” Both the creative process and the final piece were a sight to behold.

Throughout the night, the music and art at the Community Café connected with and highlighted all the work that IMAN has been doing to reclaim housing and neighborhoods as part of its community building initiatives over the last few years.

If imagination and creativity are indeed the keys to transforming our communities, by reclaiming our spaces and rebuilding our places, then this Community Café may have been a perfect place to fire up such healthy imagination and creativity.

Photos by Eve Rivera. See more photos from the show here.