UCCRO: 2012 Collective Advocacy Strategy

On February 28, staff from IMAN and four other Chicagoland organizations traveled to Springfield to gain support on several bills that advocate for the fair and equitable treatment of people from low-income communities of color. The bills constitute the 2012 Collective Advocacy Strategy platform of the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO), an alliance of African American, Latino, Asian, Arab and Muslim organizations across the Chicagoland area that represents over 30 communities and districts. IMAN is a founding member of IMAN.

UCCRO UnityThis year, the United Congress is moving forward with a new strategy for advocating policy in the state’s capital, ensuring that its platform is being pushed with legislators as much as that of special interest lobbyists who are in Springfield promoting their platforms on a daily basis. The United Congress intends to have representatives from member organizations in Springfield every week of the legislative session and these organizations have committed to dedicating a few staff members and leaders to take the lead on promoting the platform with select legislators each time they are in Springfield.

Some of the bills included in the United Congress platform this year include: two juvenile justice bills that would allow (1) for youth to petition at any time to have their record expunged and (2) to bring justice to youth who have been arrested but never convicted in order to make it easier for them to turn their lives around and apply for schools and jobs; a prisoner redistricting bill that would uphold the principle of “one person, one vote” and collect the legal home addresses of Illinois prisoners annually; and an Asian American Employment Plan, which would collect data about the number of Asian American state employees in Illinois and help secure better representation for Asian American communities.

Muslim Run: 2012 A Critical Year

IMAN’s Muslim Run campaign is entering a critical phase in 2012.  For the past several years, IMAN has been working to raise awareness and promote the goals of the campaign to a larger audience, including IMAN supporters, partner organizations and community members.  Through that, the organization has been able to build a healthy degree of excitement around the potential to transform communities through an uplifted corner store model.  Additionally, the issue of food access and healthy eating is a trending topic in non-profit, governmental and policy circles, both in Chicago and nationally.  With all that momentum, leaders in the Muslim Run campaign are moving fast towards making 2012 a big year.

The campaign has already made some significant moves in the first couple months of this year, working closely with a network of four stores who have signed onto a Muslim Run principles document, drafted by campaign leaders.  The principles lay forth the vision for the model corner store, and those that have signed on have made a commitment to:

  • Clean, well-lit, safe and inviting shopping environments
  • Plentiful selections of healthy food options, including fruits, vegetables and dairy items
  • Ready-to-eat, healthy and natural snack options, with attention to youth appeal
  • High-quality, fresh and natural food products
  • Limiting the availability or prominence of alcohol and tobacco products
  • Positive customer service and interactions based on trust and understanding
  • Serving as focal points in community education campaigns around healthy-eating and wellness
  • Fair prices and good values
  • Fiscally-sound, profitable and sustainable business models

The management at the four stores that signed onto the principles have recognized that the current model is problematic and made a pledge to enact real and permanent change in the coming year as part of the campaign, with the help of IMAN.  The signing of the document marked a powerful step forward in the building of a coalition of partners.

Muslim Run Leaders

IMAN leaders laid the groundwork for this collaboration as early as last fall, when they convened a handful of store owners and community members in a kickoff meeting to gauge interest and brainstorm ideas.  In recent weeks, Muslim Run leaders have visited the four stores to introduce themselves as well as conduct a baseline assessment.  Members of the campaign’s business track will interface with the stores on a regular basis over the course of the year to advise, strategize and monitor progress, as well as offer monetary resources.  Stores will use provided funds to expand their healthy food options as well as beautify their interiors.  Through uplifting these stores as the models for a new corner store paradigm in the community, IMAN hopes to broaden its coalition and sign on up to 20 stores this year.

A portion of the campaign’s funds is coming through a grant from the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC), an organization IMAN is working closely with.  A part of the relationship with CLOCC involves conducting walk-ability assessments in local neighborhoods to identify issues and devise solutions with regard to how pedestrian-friendly certain routes to schools and parks are.  IMAN volunteers have conducted 6 assessments covering more than 20 blocks in local communities.  A community forum is scheduled for late February to share data and insights from those assessments and gain consensus on the appropriate next steps.  Ultimately, this work ties into a larger goal of Muslim Run, which is to foster positive community environments and dynamics.

The Community Café last Saturday, February 25, was an important milestone in the Muslim Run educational campaign.  Chicago artists Mikkey Halsted and Rhymefest have been hard at work in the studio over the last few months putting together their Liquor Store Part II track.  Community Café attendees got a special preview when Mikkey and Rhymefest performed it live that night.  Going forward, IMAN will be using the song as an education tool in its awareness campaign, particularly focused on the youth.  Watch this space for updates as Muslim Run makes progress through the year.

Community Café: Just Food and Right on Time

If you were like me, the days leading up to Saturday’s Community Café had you riffing off hip hop legend Rakim’s famous verse: it’s been a long time, IMAN shouldn’t have left us, without a Community Café to bless us… All praise due, Community Café: Just Food was not only well worth the wait, but right on time!

Indeed, there was something really timely about this Café, taking place not only during Black History month but during Savior’s Day weekend, which commemorates the history of the Nation of Islam. Decades before plant-based diets became vogue, NOI leader, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, was teaching the people “How to eat to live.” Yet, unlike in his time, our time is marked by a world food system dominated by corporate interests. So for us, it’s not just a matter of being more conscious about what foods we choosCrowde, but we must also be concerned about where the food is coming from, how it’s being grown, and if, after all the “grafting”  (a.k.a. genetic modifications), it can even be considered food at all!  And perhaps most tragically, far too many of us live with daily food insecurity and find ourselves asking: how can I even access the food I need in order to eat to live. To bring this point home, as a part of the evening’s program select audience members were given stones to represent the twenty percent of Chicagoans who live, at this very moment, in food deserts–neighborhoods without grocery stores or other businesses where residents can access fresh fruit, vegetables and other real food options year-round.

The crowd, eager to meet, greet and vibe off some real music, was also eager to take in some food for thought–and I mean that literally. Throughout the night Café goers were able to purchase food that was affordable, healthy, and most importantly tasty–did someone say vegan barbeque?!–proving that food access is attainable for all. And because real heads know soul food and soul music are the perfect duo, Chef Israel hit us with some Stir Fried Soul Veggies accompanied by the soul stirring sounds of Ms. Dia on the 1s and 2s.

The acoustic sounds of Zain Lodhia also fit the night reflecting the return to fundamentals, which motivates the food justice movement, and to the fundamental right of every human being to real and nutritious food.  As a humMumu Freshan right, food justice knows no borders and the London-based duo Native Sun, with their mix of hip hop and Afrobeat had the crowd jammin’ in the name of justice and raising their fists in solidarity with peoples from Chicago and St. Lucia to Mozambique and Syria, because the right to real food is tied to the broader human struggle for freedom from all forms of oppression.

Another one of the night’s musical highlights was the set by Maimouna Youssef. From soul to reggae to hip hop, her set was “Mumu Fresh,” for real…the kind you wished would never end. Alas, all good things must end, but not before leaving us with a much awaited performance of her An Ode to Monsanto song. Witty and biting, Maimouna had the crowd chanting, again in solidarity, Hell NO, GMO!

Mikkey HalstedThe night ended by bringing the issue of food justice back home by shedding light on IMAN’s Muslim Run campaign.  Blessing the mic was Mikkey Halsted performing the insightful track Bigger Than A Liquor Store with Rhymefest and Maimouna. Rhymefest opened up this final performance by reminding us “the only real power is the power to empower others.” And this opening quote was perhaps the best way to end the night, because that is what Community Café: Just Food was all about. Empowered with real knowledge, fortified by real nutrition and in the fellowship of local, national and international solidarity we reclaim our right, take back our food…and in the words of Maimouna keep chanting: Hell NO, GMO!

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

Two Must-See Docs: Playing In The Chi!

Al-Hafeez Community Center has been a longtime supporter and ally of IMAN, and we share with them a commitment to anti-violence work in the city. Many of our key leaders, board members and staff have been intimately involved in leading CeaseFire’s work on Chicago’s Southwest Side and we are very excited about the success and critical acclaim of this extraordinary documentary.

IMAN has supported the Ta’leef Collective in Chicago initiative since its launching and hosted many of Usama Canon’s engagements in Chicago.

These two movies use the creative arts to highlight and engage issues such as anti-violence work in Chicago (The Interrupters), and the meaning of Islam in the lives and dreams of young Muslim adults (Wayward Son), both issues that IMAN engages with in its organizing and arts & culture work.

Al-Hafeez Community Center Presents
The Interrupters: Film Screening & Panel Discussion with Ameena Mathews and Director Steve James
Saturday, February 18 – 10am-2pm
Gene Siskel Film Center
164 N. State Street, Chicago
$25 Tickets (includes movie & lunch): Call Elijah Muhammad @ (773) 510-3562 to purchase

The Interrupters is a documentary from Kartemquin Films that tells the moving and surprising stories of three Violence Interrupters—Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra—who have credibility on the streets because of their own personal histories, as they intervene in conflicts before  they explode into violence and cost lives in their Chicago communities. Shot over the course of a year, the film captures a period in Chicago when it became a national symbol for the violence in our cities.

Al-Hafeez Community Center was established on Chicago’s South Side by The Shaykh, Dr. Abdur Rashied Matthews over 22 years ago. Known by all as The Shaykh, he has been a powerful influence in the community for decades. The Shaykh is the Spiritual Advisor of the Masjid and Community Center. Al-Hafeez Community Center has put on many events in the Chicagoland area. Our purpose is to promote Spiritual Awareness, Self-Respect, Unity, and Health. The members of Al-Hafeez Community Center are strong Advocates for stopping Violence, increasing Education, and bringing Financial Stability to all Communities in Chicago as well as in the nation.

Ta’leef Collective in Chicago Presents
Wayward Son: Film Screening & Panel Discussion with Usama Canon and Director Mustafa Davis
Friday, Feb 24th, 7-10pm
American Islamic College Theatre,
613 W. Bittersweet Place, Chicago
$7 Tickets ($10 at door): Purchase here

Wayward Son – The Jordan Richter Story is the intimate story of professional skateboarder Jordan Richter and his rapid rise and disappearance from the sport of skateboarding. Jordan embraced the religion of Islam in the mid 90’s and out of what he felt was a religious obligation, quit professional competition. 15 years later he learns that skateboarding is not prohibited in Islam and making up for lost time, attempts a comeback.

Ta’leef Collective began as Zaytuna Institute’s Outreach program in 2002 and was born into an independent organization in 2005.  Ta’leef Collective provides the space, content and companionship necessary for a healthy understanding, embrace and realization of Islam. We serve seekers actively interested in Islam and converts to the faith, assisting them in realizing a sustainable conversion to and practice of Islam, and a healthy, gradual integration into our greater Muslim community. Ta’leef Collective also strives to reengage the growing number of disenfranchised and often marginalized Muslim young adults.

Ta’leef’s team has been working for some time now to ensure the viability and sustainability of programming in Chicagoland, by way of regular visits and focus groups with partners and stakeholders across the area. Throughout 2012, we will be developing and shaping the programs that will become the core of our offering, and, God willing, move toward holding those programs in a new space, one that we hope will be welcoming, warm, and inspiring to our guests and visitors.