A corner store in the heart of Chicago’s South Side is not where most of the media attention around Syrian refugees in the US is focused, but that is often where you will find Faiza Kalam.
Faiza has been a key leader for IMAN’s corner store campaign since she recently arrived in the US as a refugee. As she pursues a Ph.D in Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Faiza has been integrally involved in IMAN’s efforts to transform corner stores into more holistic sites for healthy food access and community building.
While hateful and polarizing rhetoric scapegoating Syrian refugees intensifies in the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, Faiza and many like her are deeply engaged with our communities. Meet Faiza and learn more about her work with IMAN’s corner store campaign at our Annual Fundraising Dinner on Saturday, December 12th.
After months of rigorous training and development, all five members of this year’s Green ReEntry cohort graduated from the program. On November 12th, the cohort came together one last time, dressed to impress in brand new suits, to celebrate their accomplishments with friends, family and community leaders.
Each graduate received a Green ReEntry certificate of completion, along with Level 1 Carpentry Certification from the National Center for Construction Education and Research. As they received their certificates, the group shared heartfelt reflections on their experiences in what became “more than just a job-training program.”
Before learning to green retrofit homes, the Green ReEntry crew underwent eight weeks of intensive coursework focused on carpentry fundamentals. They also developed critical “soft skills” that deepened their understanding of how to navigate the employment landscape.
Longtime leader Nathaniel ‘Hasan’ Smith made Green ReEntry history: he became the first program participant to earn a general contractor’s license, and was hired full-time by the local WJ Management Company. The other four crew members are also pursuing stable employment with WJ Management.
Several noted public officials attended the graduation in support of the cohort, including Alderwoman Toni Foulkes, State Senator Jacqueline Collins, Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia, and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush. Each lifted up the powerful examples of transformation that the cohort and the Green ReEntry program itself serve to communities both local and nationwide.
Rhythmic poetry and inspired lyrics emanated from IMAN’s Youth & Arts Wellness Center as the return year of Fresh Expressions, a grassroots, creative safe space, came to a close. After dining on healthy snacks and veggie pizza, talented young artists from every side of Chicago meshed social awareness with oratory flair during the open mic session. Performers hailed from Gage Park High School, the Kuumba Lynx collective, and even IMAN’s core group of leaders.
IMAN Arts Council member Amirah Sackett then took the stage with her unique blend of artistic education and expression. Sackett shared her story of self-discovery, a journey through which she has found ways to embrace both her love of Islam and hip-hop. After a “locking” dance demonstration, she spoke about her group “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic” and fielded questions from the audience.
Community engagement and active dialogue is a crucial component of Fresh Expressions, and this month’s theme was “In Your Feelings”. Guests broke off into groups to discuss Emotional Intelligence in the context of real-life situations. Multigenerational, multiethnic connections are a hallmark of the Fresh Expressions experience, and the passion and wisdom contributed by those in attendance served as powerful reminders of the necessity of this space.
As the year draws to a close, we look forward to the continued growth and solidification of the Fresh Expressions model. Few other places in the city of Chicago offer such a vibrant, youth-led environment for community members of all ages to express themselves and learn from one another. Thank you to all the leaders and volunteers who helped to make this year a success.
Along with Cook County Commissioner Jesus ‘Chuy’ García, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle made her first ever visit to IMAN on Thursday, October 15th. Preckwinkle and her staff were engaged by our leaders on IMAN’s commitment to improved public safety in the Chicago Lawn community, and pushed to increase her office’s support for that effort.
After touring the IMAN Health Clinic and Youth & Arts Wellness Center, Preckwinkle met with the current Green ReEntry cohort. That same morning, the brothers were working through the final stages at the latest renovation project on South Washtenaw Avenue, and detailed for Preckwinkle the ways that their work and presence helps stabilize this community.
García, Preckwinkle, and IMAN staff and leaders then sat down over a light breakfast to further discuss the measurable local impact of IMAN’s work, pathways to program expansion, and the necessity of increased support for initiatives like Green ReEntry by Cook County leadership. Nasir Blackwell, a sharp legal mind and the new manager of the original Green ReEntry home on Washtenaw, introduced the plans for the IMAN Legal Clinic effort he will lead in 2016. Blackwell spoke passionately about the barriers that incarcerated individuals face both inside and when released, citing the need for legislation that is more conducive to helping the formerly imprisoned reintegrate smoothly into their communities.
Talks wrapped up with references to the new Level 1 Trauma Center scheduled for construction at nearby Holy Cross Hospital. While the clear need for high-quality healthcare facilities on the South and Southwest Sides was acknowledged, many variables remain unknown. IMAN thanks the offices of County Board President Preckwinkle and County Commissioner García for their visit.