Local Seniors Learn Self-Defense

This month’s Senior Wellness Luncheon hosted by the Health Center, focused on providing senior citizens with ways to protect themselves in dangerous situations. Ramy Daoud, owner and head coach of Phoenix Sports Empire in Naperville, introduced the seniors to basic self-defense techniques during the hour-long session. Seniors learned various blocking methods and proper movements to handle and escape a potential attacker. Those in attendance were excited to try something new and felt that learning self-defense skills is extremely useful in today’s environment.

“I have been attacked from behind,” said Jean Davis a 70-year-old attendee who travels to IMAN from suburban Lansing to attend the monthly luncheons, “Nowadays they are attacking everybody, they don’t care.”

The self-defense lesson also included methods for seniors with limited mobility like Rosemary Meriweather, a 66-year-old grandmother using a rollator walker who feared the hands-on session would not be useful to someone like her, “He showed me what I can do”.

Meriweather has been attending IMAN’s luncheons for over a year and says she enjoys coming each month and always leaves with something informative—from recipes to life tips, like how to protect herself and her family. “I am raising two granddaughters and I’m going to teach them some of these moves.”

Self-defense is extremely important, specifically for older adults as they are seen as a vulnerable population. Participants were asked topics of interest and self-defense rated amongst the highest. Instructor Daoud, who has been doing martial arts for 25 years and currently works as a professional fighter, says it is a skill everyone should have and he looks forward to returning to IMAN to lead more sessions.

The senior luncheon highlights a sense of purpose, feelings of belongings, increased self-esteem, confidence and improved physical and mental health. The luncheon allows participants to nurture their soul by socializing, keeping active and building connections with others in the community.

Newest Green ReEntry Cohort Takes Root in Atlanta

“We are a team. One unit, and one chain. We succeed by strengthening each other.” Antonio Jasper, 25, and Ishmael Tillery, 21, recite these powerful words every day alongside their eight fellow Atlanta Green ReEntry cohort members.

Currently living in a transitional home after completing his prison sentence, Antonio heard about Green ReEntry from a mentor: Ms. Patricia Bennett, CEO of Empowering Men and Women on the Move. Antonio was incarcerated at a young age, and thus has not had the opportunity to amass any work experience. After being admitted into the program, he has eagerly embarked on gaining the knowledge and skills that were previously denied to him.

“All I had growing up was the streets, selling drugs. I was in an environment where people were shooting folks. You gotta hide from the cops, gotta constantly look over your shoulder. [But here in Green ReEntry] you can talk to people. It’s a positive environment. Everyone is helping each other to succeed, so that I won’t go back down the same road.”

The brotherly bonds with his instructors and peers motivate Antonio to make positive contributions to this year’s cohort to redirect his life trajectory toward a stable career. In five years, he hopes to attain “master plumber” status, and help create a healing environment for young men in his community.

Ishmael joined the program to explore his passion for plumbing. He hopes to one day work alongside Jermaine Shareef, a certified master plumber and Atlanta’s Green ReEntry Manager. While not a returning citizen himself, Ishmael deeply values the strength and camaraderie of the Green ReEntry brotherhood. “It’s a respect thing. Your background doesn’t matter, because you’re here now [to improve yourself]. We’re here to uplift one another.”

Reflecting on the new cohort, Shareef proudly states: “These guys want to be part of a powerful and meaningful change to prevent others from falling victim to the system.”

Youth Leader Katie Marciniak Joins the Board

IMAN’s Board of Directors voted in its newest member, Katie Marciniak, during the January meeting. Katie, a local community member and recent graduate of Gage Park High School, is no stranger to IMAN and has emerged as a dynamic youth leader and organizer during her several years with the organization. Currently, she serves at IMAN as an Outreach and Wellness Coordinator through the Public Allies program, working with three South Side high schools to engage students around food access and its systematic connections to other issues impacting marginalized communities. Katie recently shared how her relationship with IMAN has fostered her personal growth and helped to define her purpose.

Q: How did you become involved with IMAN?

A: I originally became involved through the farmers market, through an organization that partnered with my high school. At that time Shamar introduced himself as a youth director at IMAN and I then started to engage more. I continued to look for opportunities to further my community work because I knew I was passionate about being deeply involved in my community, but I didn’t really know what opportunities to explore. I believe it was back in 2015 when I first became involved with the youth council, where we had discussions about community issues and how they impacted us. After the youth council, I stayed regularly engaged at IMAN, and then my next opportunity was being part of the MLK Memorial. I was essentially a student representative on the planning committee, and that gave me an opportunity to further the efforts of the people who previously worked to create a project to commemorate King and to continue the efforts of the students from my high school who were there before me. This was my first real opportunity to become deeply involved in a project with IMAN, which gave me the chance to really see a vision come to life.

Q: Did you ever aspire to become a board member at IMAN?

A: Well when the opportunity was presented to me, I thought it was really beneficial as soon as I heard about it. I was interested in bringing my perspective to the board and to be able to enhance the organization as a whole…internally, considering I do have a position currently in the organization, and externally as well to ensure that the services that are being offered meet the community’s needs considering I am from the area and still residing in the community.

Q: What does your new role as an IMAN board member mean to you?

A: It means being able to contribute and being a new voice for the betterment of the organization and the community, especially for the youth. To be that model and to have a direct say in things that go on in our community, and to show that they have the capability to be in a position where their voices can be heard and impact decision making processes on behalf of their community.

Q: How has being involved in the work at IMAN shaped your life?

A: Wow, how hasn’t it shaped my life?! I feel like IMAN has really given me opportunities to better understand myself and the community, mentally and spiritually. And over time I feel like I’ve been constantly progressing through those opportunities especially through leadership as I’ve gained more leadership within the organization. And just being able to use the skills and knowledge that I’ve acquired here, beyond the organization and beyond my community… or just really being able to use my skills in any space. I definitely feel from this point on I will go on to continue to create an impact, large and small, due to everything I’ve learned and gained through my experiences and the people I’ve met.

Q: What is your advice to other young people about getting involved?

A: You don’t have to have a deep educational background or experience to get involved in your community. I believe all young people have a voice, it’s just a matter of exploring those different opportunities, specifically community related opportunities that help you find your voice and find your passion. Don’t be afraid to expose yourself to different people in your community and put yourself in those spaces that help you better understand community issues as a whole and are interconnected. Utilize the knowledge that you have received and take steps to then find your purpose.

“Path To Restoration” Bill Introduced into IL State Senate

After months of organizing at the grassroots levels and throughout the halls of the state capitol, IMAN’s latest legislative push was formalized as Senate Bill 3489: the Path to Restoration Bill. This crucial bill proposes a set of amendments to Illinois’ registry tracking individuals convicted of violent crimes against youth. Currently, individuals have no ability to contest their appearance on the registry, no way to correct inaccurate information posted to the database, and no way to petition for eventual removal. This effectively sentences many people to perpetual punishment and stigma long after they have fulfilled their prison terms, stripping them of the ability to fully heal from their past.

The Child Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Registry Act first passed in 2006, forcing returning citizens already facing barriers to re-entering society in a dignified manner to annually register in a statewide database. In 2012, this law evolved into the current Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Registry—after the passage of “Andrea’s Law”—under which men and women convicted of a violent crime against a youth or the murder of an adult must register for a period ranging from ten years up to natural life.

The “Path to Restoration” Bill will create a fairer, more transparent system, allowing individuals to amend incorrect information and appeal their inclusion in the database. It proposes an opportunity to reconcile returning citizens with victims and their families and to help restore the dignity stripped from so many in this process.

IMAN has secured bill sponsorships from State Senators Kimberly Lightford, Elgie Sims and Jackie Collins. The team, led by Organizer Nasir Blackwell and Staff Attorney/Organizer Aaron Siebert-Llera, will be mainstays in Springfield as they pursue additional legislative support. If the bill is signed into law, Illinois would become the first state in the nation to create a mechanism whereby a member of a violent registry can seek removal from the database.

IMAN has worked alongside returning citizens for two decades, many of whom were involved in violent crimes during their youth. We remain committed to justice during this legislative session and seek to streamline the registry, making it possible for registrants to advocate for themselves and to create a space for all impacted by violent crimes to heal.

If you are interested in advocating for criminal justice reform in Springfield or participating in community conversations with other leaders, legislators, residents and others directly impacted by violent crimes, contact Senior Organizer Shamar Hemphill,shamar@imancentral.org