Staff, Leaders Further MLK’s Legacy Across Chicagoland

While Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life may have been tragically and violently taken on April 4th, this date has transformed into a revitalizing annual call for reflection on and deepened engagement with King’s legacy. IMAN staff and organizers spent the day playing key roles in several events across the city, responding to the call for building a truly beloved community by helping bridge various communities with a common desire for justice.

Several senior staff members attended a daylong Truth, Racial Healing, and Reconciliation session sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation. Alongside faith leaders, fellow organizers and influential members of the local philanthropic community, IMAN representatives lifted up the struggles and triumphs of those most directly affected by today’s most urgent socio-political challenges. Longtime partner Chicago Theological Seminary hosted the seminar, which concluded with a stirring artistic performance by poet and songwriter Avery R. Young.

Marquette Park’s MLK Living Memorial was the site of a powerful gathering sponsored by Hip-Hop DetoxX, an arts-centered youth empowerment organization spearheaded by Chicago music mainstay Enoch Muhammad. Dubbed “The Apology”, the event brought IMAN staff together with many residents who’d never before visited the MLK Living Memorial. This ceremonial remembrance opened up a unique intergenerational space for local elders to encourage young leaders to continue to strive for healthier community life.

Finally, that evening IMAN organizers and artists joined a diverse crowd of over 500 Chicagoans for the Resist, Reimagine, Rebuild teach-in. Youth leader Selma Dee and longtime IMAN arts contributor Tasleem Jamilah kicked off the event with extraordinary vocals, and organizations across the spectrum of social justice efforts set the stage for a truly special gathering. As part of the #FightFearBuildPower campaign, our organizers continued bolstering key alliances in the city as a means of mutually strengthening one another’s respective efforts.

Organizers Push Back Against Violent Offender Registry

Continuing the work of removing the “invisible bars” that restrict the formerly incarcerated, IMAN organizers have mounted a grassroots campaign to address the injustices of a registry system that threatens to further criminalize men and women who are trying to pull their lives back together after lengthy incarceration. This effort is led by those most directly affected by the harsh policies standing in the way of returning citizens’ successful reintegration into communities.

The Illinois Murder and Violence Against Youth Registration Act requires certain offenders to register their names, addresses, and recent photos into a public database. The state requires formerly incarcerated individuals to register by virtue of their conviction record, among other criteria. Returning citizens face tremendous barriers to job placement and housing upon their release, and the current registry system often serves as a form of perpetual punishment for an already vulnerable population.

Amid growing national concern over issues of surveillance, IMAN leaders catalyzed this campaign recognizing the thousands of individuals in Illinois that this policy adversely affects. Several Green ReEntry program participants and alumni are currently mandated to register, some of them for the rest of their lives. Through engaging the issue at weekly post-prayer breakfast gatherings, organizers began to build local power in the Marquette Park community by centering weekly Grassroots Power Hour gatherings on the impacts of the harsh registry system.

Organizers also traveled to Springfield to push legislators to consider several key amendments bringing fairness to the current policy: allowing registrants who’ve demonstrated exemplary conduct to petition for early removal from the system, offering fee waivers to registrants without any income, and introducing a measurement system to assess the registry’s impact on recidivism and other factors.

Want to get involved in the continued push to remove invisible bars and #FightFearBuildPower? Contact Senior Organizer Shamar Hemphill at shamar@imancentral.org, and be sure to attend Grassroots Power Hour each Wednesday at 5:30 pm.

Meet IMAN’s Health & Wellness Advocates

IMAN leaders Markus Harris and Cedric Smith recently stepped into roles as Health & Wellness Advocates, working full time at the intersection of our community organizing and farmers’ market work. We sat down with both young men, longtime Marquette Park residents, to discuss their experiences on staff.


How did you become Health & Wellness Advocates?

M: We were hired after completing [IMAN community partner] St. Sabina’s Community Youth Employment Program, which was a very impactful experience. We learned how important your character is in the workplace. First impressions matter, it’s cliché but it really does matter. So really beginning to incorporate that knowledge into my outlook and my actions will help me succeed at IMAN, and in my future professional life. In the past, we were both connected to IMAN as leaders, so to be hired through this program just brings things full circle.

C: I look at my prior volunteer experience at IMAN as what really helped jump-start this job opportunity. I was able to establish relationships with staff and other leaders by way of this, and that made things much smoother when I transitioned to this paid position.
My past work experience taught me a lot of what the St. Sabina training offered, but I definitely improved my interpersonal skills through their program. I communicate and express my thoughts and feelings in more effective ways. I’ve applied that at IMAN and I’m seeing the benefits now.

How have the past few months been working at IMAN full-time? What projects did you work on?
M: The Muslim Run Corner Store Campaign, and the Farmers’ Market have been the main work. As Health & Wellness Advocates, our main focus is increasing community access to healthy food options and spreading awareness about the importance of overall wellness. Right now, I’m working on how to market the Corner Store Campaign more effectively at the local level, mostly through social media. I’m working to engage more young people in the campaign. I’ve also helped support various events as a volunteer, like the monthly Senior Wellness Luncheon.

C: We also helped reestablish the backyard garden at the Green ReEntry house on Fairfield Avenue.

Cedric, you recently started volunteering at IMAN and very quickly assumed this position as a Health & Wellness Advocate. How was your experience transitioning into this deeper role and working full-time?
C: Well a paycheck is a big difference between my volunteer experience and what I’m doing now [laughs]. This experience really helped me better prioritize my time and my energy in all aspects of my life. I spent the majority of my week at IMAN of course, but I also have a life outside of IMAN. So managing my time and being productive at work has shown me the benefits of taking advantage of my time in a general way.
Also I’ve had great opportunities to see the city and get introduced to different communities. I traveled with Rami when he’s spoken at different universities, I met leaders at other community organizations, I went to City Hall for press conferences. All that has resulted in a lot of personal development for me, experiencing these spaces.

Why is your work so important to you?
M: The Health & Wellness Advocate’s title speaks for itself. Trying your best to influence your community to live in a more healthy and beneficial way. It’s about setting a good example and encouraging those around you to try their best to do the same.

C: I believe in the idea of change. Positive change is something that this community desperately needs, and that’s including my own self as well. So bringing about change is what motivates me to do this work, and I’m proud to be able to do that.

Organizers, Artists Brave Cold to #FightFearBuildPower

Despite freezing temperatures and strong winds, organizers, activists, artists and committed families gathered near Trump Tower for #FightFearBuildPower: Refugee Remix Rally last Saturday to collectively lift up the voices of refugee and undocumented communities. Commissioner Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia reminded the crowd to stay vigilant against individual acts of oppression, while Fr. Michael Pfleger linked the cold weather to the harsh conditions that asylum-seekers of all backgrounds face on a daily basis while seeking justice and stability for their families.

Inspiring artistic expression accompanied the powerful words of support from various community leaders. Syrian-American vocalist Bassel Almadani, along with his band, The Supernaturals, performed a compelling piece based on his relatives’ experience trying to escape war. Libyan-American rapper Khaled M. shared a piece on the struggles his father faced emigrating to the U.S.

The #FightFearBuildPower event series allows IMAN to continuously connect the narratives of those facing injustice and marginalization, and we urge you to stay connected to the effort by joining the thousands of people nationwide who’ve signed the #FightFearBuildPower Pledge. Thank you to all those who attended the rally, followed the action on social media, helped spread the word throughout your networks and continually keep IMAN’s work in your prayers.

#FightFearBuildPower: Refugee Remix Rally was presented by IMAN, sponsored by Zakat Foundation of America and co-convened by Equal Voice Action Network and the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO), with special support from the Catholic Theological Union.