IMAN Leader Spotlight: Aaron Felton

Youth leader Aaron Felton recently sat down with Communications Coordinator Dallas Wright to reflect on his introduction to IMAN, as well as some this year’s brightest moments. Aaron is currently serving as IMAN Arts & Culture Engagement Ally through a Public Allies fellowship, while also majoring in Computer Science at Richard J. Daley College on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Aaron, how did you first get involved with IMAN?

I got involved at IMAN in early 2015 through BuildOn, which is an org I was connected to through Gage Park High School. Several youth at my school were volunteering at IMAN’s Farmers Market, and so I decided to join that effort as a part of my BuildOn service. I started out supporting the music and artistic aspects of the market, and then I began connecting to more campaigns and more programs at IMAN as time passed.

I loved the community at IMAN when I first got there. It seemed that my networks were already interconnected with the staff and other leaders at IMAN. Everyone knew someone that I knew, through music or art or community building. People had great things to say about IMAN, and that opened me up to having a great relationship with IMAN folks.

What have been some highlights of your time as an IMAN leader?

14054088_286967781678946_1651839636074536741_nVisiting the White House this year for the Eid Dinner and seeing the President was an amazing experience. I feel truly blessed to have done that. I also traveled to Atlanta to support the first CommUNITY Café there this past April. Spending time on the road with other leaders and staff, I’ll carry memories of that for a long time. That was a special trip, because I got to enjoy a few of my favorite artists while I was volunteering and I was also able to tour the city of Atlanta. I’ll also never forget the Ta’leef Collective retreat in California that I attended this fall. In addition to learning more about my faith and bonding with others from across the country, that retreat was a really beneficial space for leadership development.

What advice do you have for young people looking to make an impact in their communities?

Don’t keep quiet about the changes you want to see in your community. A lot of young people, including myself, we complain about how things are and we complain about the elders not listening to us. I’ve learned that this isn’t really the case. Young people do have a voice, and we can assert our influence in everything that the community does. Whether it’s in schools, on the streets, whatever. We can affect how our community looks. So I would say to my fellow youth leaders, keep speaking up and stay assertive.

IMAN Organizers Join Citywide Call for Police Accountability

Throughout the fall, organizers and leaders have diligently mounted a campaign focused on securing new police protocols and oversight that will ultimately lead to greater accountability for officers and the Chicago Police Department itself. Led by Organizing Director Shamar Hemphill and Green ReEntry organizer Nasir Blackwell, IMAN’s police accountability work sits at the intersection of larger efforts focused on criminal justice reform and dignified community building.

The campaign aims to address law enforcement policies in all their breadth, focusing on issues from immigration status to stop-and-frisk encounters. IMAN has aligned with nearly a dozen other organizations across the city, representing a dynamic cross-section of active citizens and laying a firm foundation of unity. Partner organizations include: Communities United, Enlace, Target Area Development Corporation, UCCRO, SWOP, One Northside, Action Now and S.O.U.L.

In November, dozens of Marquette Park residents convened at IMAN’s Youth & Arts Wellness Center for a critical “Community Conversation.” During the gathering, attendees spoke candidly about their experiences with local police and voiced their hopes for future improvements, while learning about the citywide campaign and ways to get connected to it. IMAN will continue to help lead the push for substantial police accountability measures in the city of Chicago.

Interested in joining the campaign? Please contact Shamar Hemphill or Nasir Blackwell to learn more and to get involved.

IMAN, Community Partners Help Distribute 1000 Turkeys

img_20161122_105624438_hdrWith helping hands from the Mohammed Webb Foundation, Sabeel Pantry, Fairfield Academy and IMAN, nearly 1000 turkeys were distributed to local families on Tuesday, November 22nd. As part of the 16th Annual Chicago Muslim Turkey Drive, staff, youth leaders and organizers united for the total team effort needed to make such a far-reaching initiative successful. Green ReEntry cohort members provided valuable support as well, unloading many pallets of halal, high-quality turkey throughout the day.

IMAN’s participation in the Chicago Muslim Turkey Drive was not simply an isolated effort. Rather, the program is part and parcel of the tradition of grassroots work that IMAN is built on, symbolizing the best of what is possible when selfless citizens convene in order to galvanize their communities.

img_20161122_090740578Spearheaded by Sabeel Pantry and longtime IMAN leader Jihad Shoshara, the Chicago Muslim Turkey Drive received high-profile news coverage from several noted local media outlets. More importantly though, smiles beamed across the faces of hundreds of South Side residents that day as they picked up their turkeys. Such proactive outreach is a powerful reminder of the role that dignified, direct service plays in the betterment of our city.

Changing the City for the Better

I am elated that IMAN was recently listed among seven organizations Changing The City For The Better by the renowned nationwide convener Chicago Ideas Week. Such a distinction is only possible with your prayers and support, and securing a table at IMAN’s Annual Dinner on Saturday, December 10th is an important affirmation of that support at this critical time.

The Chicago Ideas Week recognition was also a powerful reminder during a difficult week for many in our larger community. In spite of any potential hardships resulting from the election, our collective mission must be to double down on the work of organizations like IMAN. As an African-American Muslim and daughter of a family that led early American Muslims through very turbulent times, I know that our community can not only withstand hardship but thrive in it.

My father, the late Imam Warith Deen Muhammad (may God have mercy on him), once reminded Muslims of the era of Pearl Harbor and Japanese-American internment, when his community was called the “Black Japs.” The degradation of the Black community and the mischaracterization of Islam as a non-white religion, was undoubtedly linked to the stigmatizing and intimidation of the early American Muslim community. Instead of admitting defeat or falling into despair, those pioneers responded with love for the Creator, themselves and a creative vision for lasting, positive change.

As a long standing IMAN board member, I take great comfort in knowing that my father saw and loved the spirit of hopeful resilience and vision manifested in IMAN’s many programs, campaigns and initiatives. Please join me and my family on Saturday, December 10th at the beautiful South Shore Cultural Center to ensure that work continues to flourish in Chicago, Atlanta and beyond.


Laila Muhammad
IMAN Board Member