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.

Muslim Run: Community Leaders Taking Charge

On March 2, 2011 community leaders of all stripes came together for an important steering committee meeting for the Muslim Run campaign. To start, in typical IMAN-style, committee members participated in an ice breaker exercise aimed at highlighting the diversity of talents and passions in the room. It was soon apparent that the committee personnel, from established business leaders to local activists and aspiring healthcare professionals, represented a range of skills and abilities that could be harnessed to further the campaign.

After the kickoff activity, leaders of the various tracks presented updates, with a focus on track objectives, strategies and next steps. Ameenah Muhammad, head of the policy and advocacy track, spoke of the efforts underway to ensure that a portion of the Fresh Food Fund be allocated to local community businesses. The track drafted a letter and solicited several hundred signatures in support of funds being allocated to small businesses, as opposed to large retailers solely. The letter was presented by a group of IMAN staffers and supporters in-person to a senior policy advisor to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, in conjunction with the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago’s (CIOGC) 3rd Annual Muslim Action Day, in Springfield, IL, on March 9. The next project for this track is to develop a detailed understanding of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) certification guidelines to advise and educate local store owners on compliance.

Melvin Lyons, leader of the education track, updated the committee on the efforts underway to measure and quantify the impact of the campaign on the local community. The track plans to devise and administer surveys prior to the launch of the campaign’s main efforts, in order to determine a baseline from which to judge the campaign’s efficacy. Ultimately, the perspective of local community members is what’s most important, as they are the individuals whose lives Muslim Run is trying to impact. The surveys are an important tool in gaining local buy-in and support for the process and engaging residents in the campaign. In conjunction with the surveys, the education track is planning on convening residents for a local town hall meeting to help develop a grassroots education curriculum on healthy lifestyle choices.

The final track, led by Sheelah Muhammad, is focused on building a sustainable business model for local store owners to profitably offer a wider selection of healthy food options. The track plans to meet in late March with a local business owner who has shown an interest and willingness to cooperate on such an alternative business model. The goal is to solicit feedback, gain perspective and ultimately work in conjunction with that owner to pilot the new model, with the eventual goal of replicating it across a network of 7-10 stores. Not only will this effort help develop a coalition of supporting businesses in the community, but it will also provide invaluable guidance for IMAN in developing its own business at the vacant property at 2747 63rd Street, across the street from the IMAN office. The business committee hopes to begin the planning process for developing that location into a model healthy food store and café in the near future.

A common theme reiterated throughout the meeting was the interdependence of the efforts across all tracks and the recognition that all three are critical for a successful campaign. Because the ultimate goal of the campaign is to create a self-sustaining solution to the healthy food access problem, both the supply and demand sides of the issue need to be addressed. The education track is focused on creating awareness of healthy lifestyle choices in the community, so that the demand for fresh foods increases locally, while the business track is focused on creating solutions for business owners to ensure supplying such food items is feasible and profitable. The policy and advocacy track supplements the other tracks by building awareness and lobbying at the community, city and state levels for both supply and demand side issues

There is a lot of excitement brewing around the Muslim Run campaign, and as the initiatives underway begin to take shape, there is a real possibility to transform the community in a lasting way. Please stay tuned for more updates.