Organizing Training Engages Emerging Leaders in Chicago

Nearly 25 leaders gathered at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union on August 18th and 19th for IMAN’s two-day, immersive community organizing training. During the weekend-long training, participants deepened their understanding of ways to build power at the grassroots level, and explored strategies for moving their communities into action. The diverse, intergenerational group of attendees hailed from four different states seeking to sharpen their organizing skills.

Over the course of the training, IMAN’s veteran Organizing staff introduced useful tools and key concepts during various interactive exercises. Attendees learned how to conduct effective relational meetings, or “one-to-ones”, which strengthen relationships between community members through the exchange of personal stories. The group then visually mapped the “The World As It Is vs. The World As It Could Be” in small teams, sharing and comparing their visions and ideals. Participants were given time to reflect on their lived experiences, identify their own self-interest, and understand the self-interest of others, all of which are essential to foster intentional relationships and facilitate grassroots community organizing.

IMAN Roster Artist Lula Saleh, who traveled from Minneapolis for the training, infused the weekend with powerful artistic expression, including an original poem and a bluesy song enlisting the rhythmic skills of her fellow trainees. Lula also helped to re-energize leaders during the training with deep breathing exercises and free movement techniques.

In line with IMAN’s organizing philosophy, this training delivered the wisdom and inspiration of earlier generations of freedom fighters to a new generation of organizers, highlighting the beauty and importance of people uniting to address issues that directly affect them. This was the fourth training nationwide that our organizers have facilitated in 2018 using IMAN’s unique community organizing curriculum. We will continue to develop leaders across the country, carving out a healthy space for nuanced conversations about shared concerns, and transforming glaring differences into the means by which communities #FightFearBuildPower.

Usama Canon & Brother Ali at IMAN Eid Celebration

As millions of people gathered for the sacred Hajj pilgrimage, IMAN hosted hundreds of community members during an uplifting Eid al-Adha celebration with Usama Canon, founder of Ta’leef Collective, and Yemeni scholar Syed Umar bin Hamid al Haddad, a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Longtime IMAN Arts leader Brother Ali joined these two special guests, and began the day by hosting an intimate discussion on managing trauma and supporting psycho-spiritual health with several Green ReEntry and Health Center staff members. Following that gathering, he delivered a powerful khutbah highlighting the importance of mercy and justice in strong faith communities.

Usama Canon has served as a spiritual advisor to IMAN for many years, and he met with dozens of staff and leaders after the jum’ah prayer. He acquainted his teacher–Syed Umar–with the IMAN community, and facilitated a touching introduction between Syed Umar, Shirley Muhammad, the wife of the celebrated Imam WD Mohammed, and IMAN board member Laila Muhammad, his daughter. Syed Umar then toured IMAN’s campus to experience the work’s continued growth and impact.

Throughout the afternoon, guests also enjoyed an expanded Fresh Beats & Eats Farmers Market commemorating the Eid al-Adha holiday. A free, catered lunch was distributed to all in attendance, while Ronnie Malley and his internationally acclaimed trio provided captivating musical performances to celebrate the Eid season. The market featured children’s activities like a petting zoo, and an inflatable bounce house. With the school year right around the corner, IMAN gave out dozens of free backpacks stocked with supplies to young students. IMAN’s annual Eid Al-Adha celebration represents an important opportunity to bring community members together to learn about and share in the spiritual bounties of this special moment.

Organizers Focus on Local ‘Food Ecosystem’

IMAN continues to #FightFearBuildPower with several critical initiatives related to our Food Ecosystem work. Organizers and leaders have called on communities to “fight back with food” through our Corner Store Campaign, Fresh Beats and Eats Farmers Market and Backyard Garden. Food plays a critical role in our collective health and wellness, and IMAN is doubling down on both its support of existing food providers, as well as opening up additional outlets for residents to access nutritious goods.

Following a successful Refresh the Hood series during Ramadan, Corner Store Campaign organizers and leaders have advanced their outreach into new stores while deepening relationships with those already in IMAN’s network.

Fresh Beats & Eats Farmers Market returned in July, opening up a weekly space for residents to enjoy locally grown, organic produce, inspiring artistic expression and relaxing gatherings with their neighbors for the fourth consecutive year. Led by new Food Ecosystems Coordinator Eric Rodriguez, the market has added new features like a petting zoo and regular giveaways of groceries and personal care products. Fresh Beats & Eats will run through October 27, rain or shine.

Tucked in the back of one of IMAN’s properties, the Backyard Garden is flourishing. Managed by longtime leader Olisaemeka Okakpu, the garden has served as an outdoor classroom and source of fresh produce for other Food Ecosystems leaders interested in the art of urban farming. Several harvests from the garden have been delivered to the Fresh Beats & Eats Farmers Market to be distributed as samples. A local chef also conducted a live cooking demonstration with vegetables grown in the Backyard Garden, showing market-goers that they too can own their food “from seed to plate”.

There are many ways to support IMAN’s Food Ecosystems work, like purchasing local foods from Fresh Beats & Eats Farmers Market, or engaging one of our partner corner stores. To get involved as an organizer or leader, contact Corner Store Campaign Manager Sara Hamdan or Food Ecosystems Coordinator Eric Rodriguez.

Atlanta Hosts CommUNITY Café and Kayem Residency

IMAN recently hosted another weeklong Sacred Cypher Creative artist residency, this time featuring Chicago-based hip-hop artist, Kayem. This was the third residency of 2018, and the first held in Atlanta. Kayem’s work is rooted in his identity, being a child of the Libyan diaspora. His residency, entitled “My Home is a People”, collaborated with IMAN’s Green ReEntry program on a series of events and workshops using free-writing, poetry and hip-hop to empower personal stories and help communities harness their pasts as a tool to positively shape the future.

The residency began with Kayem facilitating a “Writes of Passage” writing workshop at Atlanta’s Greening Youth organization in collaboration with Urban Youth Corps. Kayem’s vulnerability encouraged attendees to open up and heal by writing out their personal stories. Later that week, Kayem led “Recalibrating our Spirit”, during which newly hired Atlanta Green ReEntry cohort members bonded through mutual storytelling. He also hosted an intergenerational town hall meeting called “Bridging Boundaries” on Independence Day, which gathered a diverse group of local leaders to discuss ways to create bridges in communities that remain deeply divided.

Kayem was invited to present his work at the 2018 Community Life Forward (CLF) conference, where he appeared at “Taqwa Talks” and spoke on the Social Justice panel. His residency concluded with CommUNITY Café: Revitalize and Remix. Over 400 CLF conference attendees, community members, friends, families and supporters convened for an inspirational live performance experience designed to connect, inspire and organize diverse communities to action.

During the event’s “Café Hour”, audiences were invited to engage IMAN’s ongoing community wellness work, support local businesses and artisans inside CLF’s marketplace, snack on delicious appetizers, and enjoy an interactive performance led by Surabhi Ensemble.

Kayem emceed the Café alongside Authentic Aseelah, and with sounds provided by ATL’s very own DJ Rasyrious. In addition to Kayem, the night’s extraordinary artist lineup included: Brother Ali and Al Taw’am, Tammy McCann, Mama Sol and a global music fusion collaboration featuring members of the Surabhi Ensemble (Ronnie Malley, Carlo Basile, Massamba Diop).

Stay tuned for IMAN’s next artist residency in October, featuring Chicago hip-hop artist PHENOM. If you are interested in getting more intimately involved with IMAN’s arts work, please email arts@imancentral.org.