Over the years, IMAN has celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by keeping its doors open and hosting or participating in local events honoring and making relevant Dr. King’s struggles.  The Marquette Park area, in which IMAN is located, was the site of one of Dr. King’s historic stands against racial discrimination in housing and the diversity that makes up this area today is a result of that principled confrontation.  Yet, there has not always been recognition or celebration of this historic connection in our local area.  IMAN is attempting to ensure that the legacy of Dr. King’s struggle is kept alive in the Marquette Park area, not only with memorials and celebrations, but, most importantly, with efforts to translate his legacy into meaningful inspiration and effective action for marginalized communities in the face of our current struggles, locally and nationally.

This year’s MLK Day started out with a march of over 300 people including youth, parents, and CeaseFire and other community leaders. The march went through historic Marquette Park where Shamar Hemphill from IMAN was one of the main speakers at a gathering.  He talked about the role of both IMAN and Muslims in the community, and about the need to create actual change to ensure that Dr. King’s legacy is not reduced to just a “dream.” Afterwards, the march continued to 65th & Mozart for a prayer vigil around community violence. After the march, the IMAN’s Youth Department lead a community discussion with over 30 youth from the local community.   This discussion, held at IMAN, centered on the need for understanding why Dr. King’s legacy and vision is important to IMAN’s overall mission of community uplift. The rest of the day was full of other speeches, activities and lively discussions about how we can continue to create a model for positive change in urban communities like Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Community Café: Just Food

It’s been a while since we’ve had a Community Café folks.  But, worry not, this is all because we’ve been busy planning and IMAN’s Department of Arts and Culture has a lot in store for 2012 and beyond.  First on our list is the February 25th Community Café: Just Food.  That’s right, along the lines of our work on food justice through the Muslim Run: Campaign for Health, Wellness, and Healing, as well as building off last year’s events such as Community Café: Healing Planet Rock and Healthy Eats, Conscious Beats, we are dedicating this Community Café to a basic human right – access to fresh, healthy food for all people regardless of where in our city or world they live.  This issue is real on a daily basis for many people – whether it’s dealing with the food deserts on Chicago’s South and West Sides or famine in Somalia.  Community Café hopes to address some of the issues people are dealing with as well as highlight IMAN’s own local work on food justice.

We’re of course championing this cause with a dynamic line up of artists.  From DC, our featured artist is Maimouna Youssef who herself is a big proponent of the food justice movement, as you can see for yourself in her recent video challenging Monsanto and genetically modified food.  We also have, all the way from the UK,  the duo Native Sun featuring Mohammed Yahya making his first IMAN appearance. But it wouldn’t be Community Café if we didn’t feature some of our own homegrown talent too – Zain Lodhia and on the 1’s and 2’s Ms. Dia.  Last but not least, we have some very special guests dedicating pieces to the “Just Food” theme – Rhymefest,  Mikkey Halsted, and Kuumba Lynx!

But, musicians and performers aren’t the only type of artists at this Café.  Since the theme is equal access to food options… we’ll have a number of food samples, vendors, and culinary artists in store.    The staff and volunteers at IMAN have spent a lot of time planning an event that really hits on our different senses and still drives home our basic theme around food justice.  For those that want to take it a step further, we will offer a workshop the next day.

So, mark your calendars now and arrive early because you know space will be limited, and join us on Feb 25th at the Living Room Lounge – 1100 W. Cermak for another edition of… Community Café!


Green Reentry: From House to Home

“We want to change how society views formerly-incarcerated individuals,” says Dr. Rolanda West. Speaking of a training program for the brothers reentering the Chicago Lawn community through IMAN’s Green Reentry Project, she adds that “it aims to teach the social, emotional, spiritual, leadership and, eventually, economic skills necessary to make a successful reentry into the community.”  The formation of a functional and empowering social identity is the key, according to her, to making such individuals pillars and leaders of the communities they are returning to.

The first house constructed under the Green Reentry Project is a beautiful and environmentally sound space made possible by training provided by the City of Chicago’s Department of Environment, major funding from the Islamic Society of North America and Zakat Foundation, equipment and materials from Home Depot, and resources from key donor families.  It has been up and running and is becoming a critical resource for the surrounding community.  It has hosted a series of meetings attended by residents, representatives from the City of Chicago and Green Reentry leaders, in which actions plans are being developed for how to tackle local issues such as public safety and foreclosed homes.  IMAN has provided leadership for such meetings and is in the process of becoming fully certified with the Illinois Department of Corrections so that reentering individuals can come to the Green Reentry houses upon their release.

As the house turns into a home by welcoming its first group of four formerly incarcerated brothers during the next month, current Green Reentry leaders will conduct a ten-week “Leadership and Empowerment” program designed by Dr. Rolanda West and the Alternative Education Research Institute.  Afterwards, they will undergo training to acquire the technical skills and certification required for “green” construction projects.  Then, these brothers will become responsible for the construction of the second Green Reentry house.  In this manner, Green Reentry will become a self-sustaining and self-replicating model.

IMAN has always envisioned Green Reentry as a model that can be successfully scaled up, over time, in accordance with the enormity and complexity of challenges that inner-city communities are faced with, challenges such as lack of decent housing, job skills, public safety, and effective reentry programs that are fundamentally connected and deeply entrenched.  Now this innovative and practical solution is getting the kind of attention from community leaders and public officials that can turn it into a regional and national success story.  Representatives from the offices of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Congressman Danny Davis have all toured the house recently and shown interest in both the commitment and possibilities that such work by IMAN represents.

As the residents of the Green Reentry home become invested in and responsible for the community that surrounds their home–with program such as mentoring at-risk youth of color, help for residents and weekly neighborhood cleanups–and as more leaders and lawmakers see the alternate possibilities that this project represents, it can begin to change how the community views formerly-incarcerated individuals.  Out of such change in perception toward them– they are assets not liabilities–can come the social, cultural and, finally, legal change that is required to solve some of the crises that are tearing our inner-city communities apart.  That is the change that Dr. Rolanda West talks about and is working with IMAN’s Green Reentry Project to create.