IMAN Awarded 2018 Neighborhood Opportunity Fund Grant

We are honored and excited to receive a 2018 Neighborhood Opportunities Fund grant. IMAN has been dedicated to organizing corner stores for nearly a decade, helping to build a culture of health and increase food access on Chicago’s South and West Sides. Our Corner Store Campaign currently engages a network of 42 stores–with 10 of those stores located in Englewood–and this award helps to augment our work in that community.

Since its inception, our Corner Store Campaign has been comprised of leaders—themselves confronted with persistent issues of inequity and undesirable health outcomes—who call Englewood, Chicago Lawn and other communities home. The 63rd & Racine Healthy Marketplace project prioritizes their voices, and those of our partners in Englewood.

IMAN is inspired by and deeply rooted in local movements that have historically pushed for Black-owned and Black-led businesses. At the same time, our corner store work is committed to healing racial tensions, particularly between Black and Arab communities. The 63rd & Racine Healthy Marketplace embodies these traditions by demonstrating the viability of a grassroots business collaboration between these two communities.

Partnering with the City of Chicago on this project is not contingent on our support for any particular initiative. Like many of our partners and resident leaders in Englewood, we remain deeply troubled by recent policy announcements. IMAN will continue to stand alongside those most directly affected by decisions and strategies that are not in the best interest of the community.

We will also continue to partner with those working in the city, county, and state on projects that will support the establishment of more thriving and dynamic communities. We are grateful for this support, and will continue to raise private funds to cover the larger costs of the Corner Store Campaign’s vision.

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,

Reflecting on Pastor Ron Taylor

Pastor Ron Taylor, a devoted community organizer, faith leader and one of IMAN’s dearest allies, passed away on January 20th, 2018. Lovingly known as “Pastor Ron”, Taylor was one of the founding members of United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO), where he served as Executive Director. He was also the founder and Senior Pastor of Disciples for Christ Church in Oak Lawn, Illinois.

Pastor Ron worked diligently as a faithful servant and a compassionate community leader, always uplifting those around him. At UCCRO, he dedicated himself issues such as criminal justice and immigration reform advocacy, and worked relentlessly to connect communities across racial and religious lines. Pastor Ron was a passionate organizer and ingenious leader, but most of all he was a friend.

IMAN staff who worked closely with Pastor Ron over the years shared their reflections on the profound impact he has had on their lives:

Shamar Hemphill
Senior Organizer

“I had the pleasure of working closely with and being mentored by Pastor Ron for over 10 years. In every open forum or internal strategy meeting, I’ve always referred to him as our “Muslim Pastor.” He truly was a shining example of leadership from behind the scenes, walking humbly while being a strong force for good. He championed working across divided communities, and taught me how to envision what our communities can become. It is with many tears, I can truly say that I loved Pastor Ron with all my heart. His legacy will live on through my work, but his loss will most definitely be felt in many organizing spaces where he left a big mark in the work.”

Alia Bilal
Director of Community Relations

“Before I officially started working in Development, I was IMAN’s main staff person assigned to the UCCRO team and Pastor Ron was the main staff member from his organization at the time. The UCCRO team met twice a month, traveled to Springfield together dozens of times per year, and planned advocacy events with one another. The year that Pastor Ron became the Executive Director of UCCRO was also the year I formally transitioned into IMAN’s Development Department and passed my UCCRO hat to one of my other IMAN colleagues. One of my favorite memories of him happened that year, when I attended the annual UCCRO Convention. I walked in the door and the first person I saw was Pastor Ron. I told him that I wasn’t quite sure how to just be a participant at UCCRO events, that it felt wrong to not be one of the organizers like I used to be. I remember him raising his eyebrow and giving me the huge sideways grin that he always wore and saying, ‘Alia, the Lord just answered both our prayers because our emcee just called in sick and we don’t have anyone to replace her, so congratulations, you’re our new emcee!’ And that was Pastor Ron: he led with grace, put people to work where he knew they would thrive, and always trusted in God to make things right at the end of the day. I will miss him so much.”

Sara Hamdan

“In 2015, during the Dyett High School hunger strike, the organizers staged a sit-in at city hall. It felt a little somber–while the fight around Dyett was some of the most inspirational organizing I have witnessed in Chicago, it was all still cloaked in the undeniable reality of the lengths that black and brown communities have to go through to prove their humanity and deservingness. At some point, Pastor Ron, who I had been sitting next to, got up and starting leading the entire group in a spiritual. It was a beautiful moment where I could feel the power of the collective through the undeniable power and leadership of Pastor Ron.”