Over the past few months, I’ve joined fellow IMAN organizers engaging with West Atlanta community members about the upcoming elections and encouraging them to vote. Through this, I learned about specific issues affecting the community and situated them in our nation’s sociopolitical context. These have been pivotal moments for me as a community organizer and graduate student of Public Health.
While canvassing, I encountered West Atlanta families who have lived in the community for over 40 years, and youth who are enrolled in local colleges and universities. By connecting with these neighbors, I discovered that each of them plays a role in the community, making West Atlanta truly unique.
On the college campuses, students shared with me their concerns about gun violence and public safety. Just last year, Georgia enacted a ‘campus carry’ law allowing students to bring secure and legal firearms onto campus for protection as a in response to recent campus shootings. Many students in Atlanta protested this legislation, wondering how more guns would make them any safer.
Meanwhile, the elders shared concerns about displacement and gentrification in a community that is changing in many ways, especially commercially. Long-standing residents find themselves stuck in the middle of a sharp decline in affordable housing, and a clear increase in community redevelopment.
I discovered a common thread linking the generations. The work of serving and uplifting the community must continue; the torch of leadership will be passed. But, how can we nurture that intergenerational collaboration if residents no longer feel secure in their homes and neighborhoods?
The experiences of the past months have infused my GOTV efforts with a deeper meaning. I became more determined than ever to ensure that residents were registered to vote, despite the reports of mysterious voter purges in Georgia. The #FightFearBuildPower movement continues, and IMAN Atlanta is fully aligned with the West End and citywide communities around issues directly affecting us.
In Chicago, the soon-to-be graduating Green ReEntry cohort gathered with neighbors and community leaders to celebrate the opening of the Steven Ward Residential Center. Steven Ward was a member of the Green ReEntry program who was tragically killed in December 2017. He helped begin the renovation of this new housing facility alongside his fellow cohort members, who completed the project and named it in Steven’s honor. Ward’s fiancé, who was with him at the time of his tragic death, cut the ribbon with their newborn daughter in her arms, and was among the first to tour the new home.
IMAN mobilizes artistic expression has been a powerful healing tool for the Green ReEntry program. During the ribbon cutting, members of IMAN’s Artist Roster including Tammy McCann and PHENOM delivered powerful performances, and Famous Inky (who is also part of the Green ReEntry cohort) wowed attendees with an impromptu performance–an ode to his program mates. Just before the ceremony came to a close, a specially designed ceramic memorial which was created inside IMAN’s Beloved Community Ceramic Studio, was unveiled. Cohort member James Collins, who contributed to the project shared reflections on the restorative and positive impact IMAN’s arts opportunities have had on his life. The artwork–a beautiful, mirrored mosaic with Steven’s silhouette in the center– will be installed on the front of the home, and features the handprints and signatures of dozens of Steven’s friends and colleagues.
The Chicago-based cohort will be graduating on Thursday, November 8 after completing 18 months of training. Please keep all the Green ReEntry participants, instructors and case workers in your prayers as they continue to transform lives and communities. For more info about Green ReEntry, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this month, IMAN hosted 50 brilliant creatives from across the country during its annual Artist Retreat, a unique space intended to forge stronger bonds between artists in our growing network. “The IMAN Artist Retreat is where artists can come to find a heart, find family, and learn how valuable their art is as a [living] language,” said IMAN Roster Artist Yaasha Abraham. This year’s participants nurtured interdisciplinary collaboration, renewed and discovered senses of spirituality, identity and purpose, and engaged a deeper understanding of IMAN’s commitment to cultivate the arts and drive social change.
Many of the retreat attendees are also members of IMAN’s Artist Roster, and the planning committee was led in part by the 2018-2019 inaugural cohort of Sacred Cypher Creatives. The artists spent three days collectively reflecting, rejuvenating, and reconnecting as they explored intersections between their crafts, healing practices and IMAN’s community organizing principles.
Sessions during the retreat were held intentionally in circles—a sacred artistic practice in hip-hop—while incorporating physical and spiritual grounding techniques under the stewardship of an inter-cultural group of elders including Grandmother Walks On Water, Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, board member Laila Muhammad, and her mother Shirley Muhammad. Additionally, many artists shared their inspirational work during short moments of expression called “art bursts”. Each day wrapped up with an evening jam session, a free-flowing safe space for several attendees to explore their creativity and share their talents among supportive peers.
IMAN’s Artist Retreat is a yearly springboard, reminding participants of the arts’ true healing potential and its possibilities as a collaborative, power-building platform for our community. For more information about the retreat or arts programming, email email@example.com.