With our key Muslim Run campaign leaders lined-up against the walls, February’s community forum began. After briefing the crowd on exactly what the campaign means and its importance to the community, we almost immediately transitioned into work! Generally, community forums bring together leaders to get feedback on IMAN’s projects, but the goal of this forum was to gain such feedback and create concrete plans for the direction in which to move this campaign.
We split into three separate tracts, representing the three major aspects of this campaign: Policy & Advocacy led by IMAN board member Maaria Mozaffar. Education & Relationship-building led by IMAN community organizer and Youth Coordinator Shamar Hemphill. And Building Healthy Business Models led by IMAN Executive Director Rami Nashashibi. Although we were split into groups, the interconnectedness of the tracts was widely discussed. We split in order to harness our energies on one topic at a time, not to lose sight of the greater scheme of the campaign.
Once we reconvened to discuss the conclusions we had come to, we began to get our brains cranking on what next steps are attainable. Each group had honed in on one specific solution or action that should be created in order to move toward the larger goal. The tract focused on Policy brought up the fact that stores that accept Link Cards – an electronic method for distributing food stamps – have certain guidelines on what can be sold in their stores, and more often than not these guidelines aren’t followed. Perhaps this could be an action for IMAN to tackle.
Muslim Run community forums are almost always jam packed! The energy is great and it’s one of those forums that are sure to spark the interest of those who have never really visited IMAN. And this could be for a few different reasons:
One, the food desert conversation is becoming increasingly popular, through the news and other “Get Healthy” campaigns. However, IMAN takes a very different view of the issue. Often times businesses within food deserts are vilified and its community members victimized. But the Muslim Run campaign looks at all the contributing factors to the food accessibility issue, for it is such a complex issue! A project working against the food crisis cannot be successful by simply ripping out corner stores and replacing them with community gardens. That, my friends, would be a crisis indeed! Our communities have become so disconnected from the foods we eat that a community garden (without proper outreach, and serious community involvement) would simply shrivel up and die. The different tracts of the Muslim Run campaign seek out all the contributors to the problem, and works towards achievable solutions.
Another thing that makes the Muslim Run campaign unique is the relationships it seeks to build between store owners and community members. As a Muslim organization, we recognize the importance of providing the community with a positive image of Muslims, and this campaign partially seeks to ensure Muslim store owners project that positive image. Communities that have been ravaged by food accessibility problems have great potential, but it has to be a community effort, and the problem needs to be broken down piece-by-piece, renewed, and replaced with a better, healthier solution that store owners and community members can have pride in. The conversation around food accessibility is becoming increasingly popular in mainstream society and Muslims should not allow themselves to be left out of this conversation or remain silent while “solutions” are made for us. We are expecting to see even more leaders and organizers attend these forums in the future, to ensure these solutions truly solve this community crisis.