Every year, IMAN commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by honoring the larger civil rights legacy of working for social justice and racial equity, particularly in neighborhoods like the one in which IMAN is based. This year, on Monday, January 20, IMAN marked the day by officially launching a community-wide and historic initiative to create an MLK Memorial Project in Marquette Park, and by holding a free community luncheon in its new and partially rehabilitated IMAN Youth and Arts Wellness Center.
The MLK Memorial Project will be a two-year effort to construct a memorial that commemorates Dr. King’s march through Chicago’s Marquette Park on August 5, 1966. The Memorial will also celebrate the struggles and commitment of diverse local communities that have, since that day, continued to work together toward realizing a dignified quality of life for all community residents. By connecting community organizations, public schools, religious institutions and neighborhood families with artists, local historians and participants in the 1966 walk, IMAN intends to build a dynamic and expansive team of people who are eager to establish a Marquette Park memorial that will bring enthusiasm, vitality and community spirit back to the neighborhood. IMAN is partnering with the Chicago Public Art Group to construct the memorial, while funding from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development was made possible by the leadership of State Senator Jacqueline Collins.
IMAN leaders and volunteers were also honored to hold a free community luncheon that day. Individuals and families from IMAN’s larger Chicagoland base of supporters and leaders, such as families from the Hyde Park River Garden School, teamed with local leaders from the Chicago Lawn community to hold a restaurant-style luncheon for local residents. Volunteers as young as four years old helped to serve homemade turkey, rice, vegetables and chocolate cake to local parents, educators, construction workers, store clerks, retired couples and children off of school that day. IMAN staff also used the opportunity to inform new faces about IMAN’s services and to formally announce the launch of the MLK Memorial Project.
September 14-15, 2013 marked the dates of another successful IMAN Organizing Training. Now, IMAN staff and leaders are gearing up for another full year of intense work on our organizing and advocacy campaigns. This year’s training could not have been possible without the support and leadership of longtime community organizer and political analyst Don Washington. The IMAN organizing team brought Washington on to help us through the process of continually refining our organizing training curriculum and technique, and staff and attendees were not disappointed. Twenty-six adults and young folk attended the training, many of whom were already active participants in IMAN campaigns, or volunteers at various IMAN events in the past. All of them came to learn the basic tenets, tools, and language of community organizing.
Over the years, IMAN has been actively engaged in the process of developing a community organizing curriculum that grounds the basic principles of conventional organizing within the rich and parallel moral and action-centered framework of the Muslim spiritual tradition. Each year, we have taken the feedback and commentary of training participants back to the organizing table and sought ways to distill and sharpen our training modules and techniques to best emphasize key points, and to draw the clearer and more emphatic connections between spirituality and the spiritual imperative to act on critical issues of social justice.
Though IMAN organizers have had the opportunity to present iterations of this training to groups across the country over the past few years, this year’s training marked another step towards completing a curriculum that aims to train Muslims and others across the globe on how to make meaningful impact on issues that matter to them in a way that merges action with their spiritual, moral center.
IMAN organizers have already begun to reach out to training attendees to incorporate them into the process of working to transform their communities. Their participation and leadership will lead to more successful and impactful organizing and advocacy campaigns for IMAN and other communities over the coming years.
IMAN believes in creating safe, empowering, spiritually nurturing, and fun spaces to help grow and develop young people into community leaders. Digital Media Masters, part of youth programming at IMAN, creates one such space that also bridges the digital divide often found in low-income neighborhoods. The program empowers students to create and distribute digital media through the Internet using the latest tools, techniques and open-source software. Such skills will be highly useful in allowing communities to create their own streams of income as well as imparting marketable job skills for further career development.
An important part of the current session of Digital Media Masters, which started on July 8, is that funding for it has come from a recent and critical policy win supported by The United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO) and led by UCCRO member organizations Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and Albany Park Neighborhood Council (APNC). As a founding member of UCCRO, IMAN was supporting the ongoing work of the LYFE Coalition to pass a Youth Employment Funding bill and win $14 million in the Governor’s budget for summer youth jobs that will employ tens of thousands of youth this summer—hopefully reducing violence while providing crucial skills and opportunities to youth.
As a grassroots organization fighting for social justice in some of the most challenging neighborhoods in Chicago, IMAN believes in the importance of striving to fix the systemic issues that help to marginalize low-income communities of color. One of the major mechanisms by which IMAN attempts to affect policy change is as a member organization of UCCRO. United Congress is a grassroots-led multiethnic human rights alliance mobilizing people, policy and ideals for the equitable advancement of marginalized communities, and IMAN is one of its founding organizations.
The Youth Employment Funding bill, and programs such as Digital Media Masters that have resulted from it, is a major example of how IMAN and UCCRO are, together, building power across Black, Latino, Asian and Arab communities, in order to improve the lived experience of these communities.
IMAN staff marked this year’s Martin Luther King Day by hosting a discussion with several high school students, local educators, and artists around the construction of a memorial to mark Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march through Marquette Park almost fifty years ago. He and 700 other diverse civil rights activists, religious leaders, and concerned citizens took to the streets of Chicago Lawn on August 5, 1966 to demand equal housing rights, and IMAN has been leading an effort to memorialize this event, and the community that has struggled for justice and equality in its wake, for several years.
IMAN organizers sought to consult with youth leaders as well as local educators and artists about what the impact of a King memorial in their community could be. After viewing some of the images from that day and reading a news clip written on the day after the march, the group discussed how empowering it would be to have a physical monument in the heart of the Marquette Park community, reminding community members of the brave and powerful leaders who have fought for social justice in the area since 1966 and beyond.
In 2011, Gage Park High School students, under the leadership of their social studies teacher Mr. Victor Harbison, unveiled a multi-media kiosk at the park to celebrate the march through pictures, videos and oral histories. Their tremendous project marked the first concrete effort to commemorate Dr. King’s presence in Marquette Park in 1966 and the discussion on MLK Day, January 21, explored the very real possibility of expanding that effort into a more permanent and visible memorial on the grounds of the park. IMAN hopes to deepen this conversation with community members, historians, and artists in the coming months in order to envision the next stage of this initiative.