Community Café: Healing Planet Rock

On Friday, February 25th, IMAN held its first Community Café of 2011 at the Chicago Urban Arts Society in the Pilsen neighborhood. The event was hosted by Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, author of “Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet,” who enlightened the audience and performers alike throughout the night on the significance of being conscious about the environment.

The night started off with a spoken-word piece by IMAN volunteer Tabina Bajwa, followed by the first musical performance of the night, jazz/hip-hop group Zzaje. Their sound led smoothly into a performance by Seasunz + J. Bless, a duo that recently released a green hip-hop album.

Off-stage, graffiti artist eL Seed and Chicago artist Savera Iftikhar were busy creating a work of art throughout the night. In light of the night’s green theme, they painted a piece on a canvas made of old t-shirts, converting the would-be useless clothing into a colorful, textured background for their piece. Friends and audience members also participated in the live artwork. By the end of the night, the audience was awed by the finished piece.

Surprise special guests Brother Ali and Big Samir of The Reminders hit the stage briefly, bringing the audience to their feet. The highlight of the evening came in the form of Yuna, an indie, acoustic artist who travelled all the way from Malaysia to grace this Community Café with her presence. Following their loud cheers and applause, the audience was struck silent as Yuna made her Chicago debut, captivating everyone in the room with her enchanting voice and acoustic guitar.

Two-time ‘Louder Than A Bomb’ spoken-word competition-winner Ainee Fatima performed a moving piece reminding the audience of the struggle and bravery of those participating in the revolutions occurring around the world. The night returned to hip-hop with artist Baraka Blue and DJ Anas Canon, and came to a close as several of the night’s performers and host Ibrahim Abdul-Matin returned to the stage for a jam session.

“I left feeling a strong sense of community. It was really inspiring to see so many different people from different backgrounds come out for a good cause and have such a good time,” said audience-member Omer Mohammad, a student from Qatar visiting Chicago on study abroad. The event’s turnout was immense, with many being turned away at the door due to the building being filled to capacity.

One Chicago, One Nation: Month One of the Community Ambassador Program

Following their February 5, 2011 orientation, at Inner-City Muslim Action Network’s 63rd Street office in Chicago Lawn, 21 Community Ambassador (CA) interns jumped headfirst into their responsibilities as community leaders. CAs in the community development track went to work drafting personal advocacy letters urging political leaders to support interfaith civic action as a tool to foster collaboration and community building. CAs focused on the issue of health &wellness researched Mari Gallagher’s work on food deserts and have started planning ways to educate residents living in these veggie-deprived neighborhoods. CA’s in the arts & culture track directed their energies toward planning and publicizing IMAN’s February Community Café concert in anticipation of a large interfaith attendance. Collectively, IMAN’s CAs have begun to plan a Re-Purposing Community Space event promoting health & wellness.

IMAN’s ambassadors are very passionate about issues that affect Chicago neighborhoods. They bring that same enthusiasm to their weekly collaborative sessions. During these sessions, CAs engage in team building, enrichment of leadership skills, and event planning. Over the past three weeks CAs have learned effective relational-meeting skills, articulated their ideal vision of community revitalization, and continue to work in their individual focus areas. In fact, they’re capturing all their endeavors with flip cams, as they’ll soon be putting together a video montage chronicling their time working with IMAN.

Friday February 25, 2011 is the general public’s first chance to meet these folks in the flesh. They’ll be in full attendance at the Chicago Urban Arts Society, the venue for IMAN’s Community Café that night. That’s right; Community Cafe is expected to be a blast, as CAs have worked hard to ensure its success. Artists are booked, the stage is set and with a theme as hip and relevant as “Healing Planet Rock,” this month’s Community Café will be one for the record books. This is just the tip of the iceberg; there’s much more to come from these burgeoning community leaders.

Reppin’ A Movement

I had recently attended a Wu Tang Clan concert in February where Rhymefest featuring Zzaje was one of the opening acts. So I was very excited when I saw Rhymefest’s name on the panel for “Reppin a Movement: Hip Hop, Spirituality & the Politics of Change”. The full panel consisted of Rhymefest (hip hop educator), Brother Ali (hip hop artist), Cap D (IMAN Board Member, lawyer and EmCee), and Jacinda Bullie (Co-Executive Director of Kumba Lynx). The moderator for the event was Dr. Rami Nashashibi (Executive Director of IMAN). The event was held at the University of Chicago International House on February 10th.

The forum attracted people from all walks of life, from religious to secular, from young to old, and from the inner-city to suburbs. All the artists are Muslim and converted to Islam. In responding to the questions asked by Dr. Nashashibi and the audience, the artists spoke about Spirituality, Politics of Change, and Hip Hop as an industry. The artists also spoke about their upbringing, the direction hip hop is going in, their conversion to Islam, social consciousness, civic and social change, and how spirituality plays a part in their daily life.

The forum created a space for the audience and the artists to engage at a deeper and more intimate level. I have attended concerts performed by Rhymefest, Brother Ali and Cap D, and I own their CDs. After attending the forum, I am able to resonate with the their music as I learn more about the artist’s life and the stories behind the music. I have a new found respect and appreciation for the artists and their work. I look at them as poets who are telling a story from their point of view. I would like to thank IMAN and other organizations for producing such an auspicious event.

February’s Muslim Run Forum

With our key Muslim Run campaign leaders lined-up against the walls, February’s community forum began. After briefing the crowd on exactly what the campaign means and its importance to the community, we almost immediately transitioned into work! Generally, community forums bring together leaders to get feedback on IMAN’s projects, but the goal of this forum was to gain such feedback and create concrete plans for the direction in which to move this campaign.

We split into three separate tracts, representing the three major aspects of this campaign: Policy & Advocacy led by IMAN board member Maaria Mozaffar. Education & Relationship-building led by IMAN community organizer and Youth Coordinator Shamar Hemphill. And Building Healthy Business Models led by IMAN Executive Director Rami Nashashibi. Although we were split into groups, the interconnectedness of the tracts was widely discussed. We split in order to harness our energies on one topic at a time, not to lose sight of the greater scheme of the campaign.

Once we reconvened to discuss the conclusions we had come to, we began to get our brains cranking on what next steps are attainable. Each group had honed in on one specific solution or action that should be created in order to move toward the larger goal. The tract focused on Policy brought up the fact that stores that accept Link Cards – an electronic method for distributing food stamps – have certain guidelines on what can be sold in their stores, and more often than not these guidelines aren’t followed. Perhaps this could be an action for IMAN to tackle.

Muslim Run community forums are almost always jam packed! The energy is great and it’s one of those forums that are sure to spark the interest of those who have never really visited IMAN. And this could be for a few different reasons:

One, the food desert conversation is becoming increasingly popular, through the news and other “Get Healthy” campaigns. However, IMAN takes a very different view of the issue. Often times businesses within food deserts are vilified and its community members victimized. But the Muslim Run campaign looks at all the contributing factors to the food accessibility issue, for it is such a complex issue! A project working against the food crisis cannot be successful by simply ripping out corner stores and replacing them with community gardens. That, my friends, would be a crisis indeed! Our communities have become so disconnected from the foods we eat that a community garden (without proper outreach, and serious community involvement) would simply shrivel up and die. The different tracts of the Muslim Run campaign seek out all the contributors to the problem, and works towards achievable solutions.

Another thing that makes the Muslim Run campaign unique is the relationships it seeks to build between store owners and community members. As a Muslim organization, we recognize the importance of providing the community with a positive image of Muslims, and this campaign partially seeks to ensure Muslim store owners project that positive image. Communities that have been ravaged by food accessibility problems have great potential, but it has to be a community effort, and the problem needs to be broken down piece-by-piece, renewed, and replaced with a better, healthier solution that store owners and community members can have pride in. The conversation around food accessibility is becoming increasingly popular in mainstream society and Muslims should not allow themselves to be left out of this conversation or remain silent while “solutions” are made for us. We are expecting to see even more leaders and organizers attend these forums in the future, to ensure these solutions truly solve this community crisis.