Six months ago, I received the worst call of my life informing me that my father had been shot and killed in his car.
I hadn’t even made it to the hospital before I heard word on the street and on social media about who was going to be killed in retaliation for my father’s death. His funeral was filled with police officers. A police helicopter even followed us all the way to the gravesite and hovered over us as we put my father’s body into the ground.
Yes, my father was a known leader of a street organization, but he was also a man who wanted the best for his family. He beamed with pride when I told him I had been accepted into IMAN’s Green ReEntry program, which would teach me a trade, help me develop life skills and give me the chance to rebuild vacant and vandalized homes. After my father was murdered, I knew that if I didn’t leave Chicago, I would get sucked into the cycle of violence that he had wanted me to avoid.
My Green ReEntry case worker advocated for me to get out of Chicago, and I spent two weeks in an exchange program with the second cohort of Green ReEntry participants at IMAN Atlanta. The Atlanta team greeted me with the love I needed at that time. They housed, fed, and engaged me from the moment I got off the plane.
I felt so grateful, but also a little guilty. I knew how many more people like me needed the same love and opportunity I had received. A close friend of mine had also fled from Chicago to Atlanta after violent circumstances put his life at risk. He was frustrated by the lack of opportunities for growth and development, so I asked the IMAN Atlanta team if he could join the Green ReEntry program. My friend not only graduated from the program two months ago, but was offered a job connected to the program due to his high performance.
I am not Muslim and knew nothing about Muslims growing up, but I’ve taken the opportunity to fast several days alongside my brothers and sisters at IMAN this Ramadan. Two days ago, I broke my fast in Atlanta with Dr. Sherman Jackson and a beautiful group of people who came out to support IMAN’s ‘Off The List, On The Love’ Ramadan Drive. I was blown away by the fact that IMAN is not only do amazing things with health, re-entry, organizing and the arts in Chicago, but now also has a full model with amazing people growing in Atlanta.
My experience with IMAN has changed the entire course of my life and, as I prepare for my own Green ReEntry graduation this November, I hope to take the skills I’ve learned to the next level and earn an electrical engineering degree. However, I am still very worried about my younger siblings as we approach the hot, violent summer months. My 19-year-old brother is one of the 187 people on the Green ReEntry waiting list desperately trying to get into the program. I believe that this may be one of the only real chances my brother has to start on the path towards success that my father dreamed of for his children.
I am calling on all of you to help us reach and exceed our ‘Off The List, On The Love’ Ramadan Drive goal. Your tax-deductible and zakat-eligible donations are critical, so more people like my brother can get off the list and on the path where the love, blessings and beauty of our community will provide him with everything he needs to succeed.