IMAN In the Media: Conversation, Impact, Change

Over the last few weeks, IMAN’s staff, leadership and work were featured prominently in news stories and interviews on well-known national media outlets such as American Public Media, National Public Radio (NPR), The Washington Post, Colorlines, and HuffPost Live. We are always excited and thankful for such high profile coverage and reporting of our work, only because it represents unique opportunities for bringing the communities we work with, and the issues we work on, to the center of  the nation’s public conversation and imagination.

In the last week of January, Executive Director Rami Nashashibi was Krista Tippett’s guest on her hour-long weekly program, On Being.  A Public Radio program on religion and spirituality, On Being is heard on NPR stations across the country.

In February, Nashashibi was interviewed by NPR’s Jacki Lyden for a segment, titled From The Inner City: Leading A New Generation Of Muslim Americans, on the popular news program All Things Considered.

Youth Director, Shamar Hemphill, was featured on a panel discussion on HuffPost Live, titled Booze N The Hood, about the presence of liquor stores, and their possible connection to violence, in poor communities of color. This was in recognition of the related work that IMAN has been doing on the ground with its Muslim Run campaign over the last few years.

Security Officer, Bilaal Evans, was featured in a story, titled Dispatch from Chicago: Stop the Violence…But How?, by Jamilah King in Colorlines magazine.  The story takes a deeper and nuanced look at urban violence, its causes and possible solutions.  Evans’ story is portrayed as representative of those who “aren’t just working to stop conflicts, but also trying to change people’s norms and behaviors in the process by showing that there are alternatives to violence.”

Finally, IMAN, its work, and its model of civic and social engagement were at the center of a story, titled Chicago is ground zero in U.S. Muslim renaissance, by Monique Parsons in The Washington Post.  It presents IMAN’s work, such as the free health clinic, at the vanguard of a serious commitment by sections of American Muslims to live their faith through service to their communities.

We would like to thank all these media organizations and individual journalists – Krista Tippett, Jacki Lyden, Jamilah King, and Monique Parsons – for bringing IMAN, our work and the communities we serve to national attention.  We sincerely hope that such attention can lead to greater conversation, increasing impact and, finally, positive change in the lived reality of our communities.

Community Café Rebuilds and Reclaims

Community Café: Rebuild not only hit the right notes musically and artistically for me, but it also hit upon a theme and an idea that I have been thinking much about recently: the relationship between the lands and spaces we claim as ours, and the many personal and social crises that we face in our lives and in our communities.  It may be that one way of turning many of these crises around is to imagine and create new relationships with our lands and spaces.  We need to reclaim our spaces and rebuild our places, if we are to transform our communities.

If imagination and creativity is what we need, then April’s Community Café had plenty of both on display.  From spoken word, to world fusion and hip hop music, to visual art, the audience was treated to an entertaining and thought-provoking show all evening.  Vintage Community Café stuff, and perfectly timed too, Saturday, April 21 being the night before Earth Day.

The evening started with spoken-word artist and community builder Mark Gonzales setting the tone with his rhymes about “homes, ‘hoods and hearts,” and of course “healing.” He spit verses that were about stolen lands and stolen lives, and about resiliency and resistance. But, ultimately, his poetry was about transformation and transcendence. The audience certainly seemed transformed by the powerful stuff.

Next up was Zeshan Bagewadi with his new band Zamin, which means earth or land in Hindi.  Bagewadi has been a favorite of Café audiences for a while, but few in the audience that night could have really known what a treat they were in for, with Zamin’s blending of western classical instruments and Bagewadi’s fresh take on some classic South Asian poetry.  This musical fusion reflects the authentic and imaginative crossover experiences of the band members and does not sound contrived; fusion done right.  It is easy to see great things in the future for this young band.

Talking of Café audience favorites and a great future, hip hop duo-couple Big Samir and Aja Black of The ReMINDers brought the crowd – or at least a part of it – to its feet, as they always do, when they mixed some of our most favorite songs, from their first album, “Recollect,” with new songs from the upcoming sophomore album, during their set that closed out the evening.  While it is always moving, literally, to hear The ReMINDers sing anything from “Recollect,” the tracks they played off the upcoming album left us waiting eagerly for its release.

While The ReMINDers brought many of us to our feet, what brought the house down at the end of the show was a song that they collaborated on with Zeshan Bagewadi.  Three great vocalists, two languages, one great song!

We were surrounded not only by great music that night, but also by beautiful visual art from Asma Inam, an up and coming graphic designer from Canada.  Visual art is a powerful way to reclaim spaces, public and private, from neighborhoods to places of worship.  In that spirit, Inam created live art during the show called “Rebuild, Reclaim.” Both the creative process and the final piece were a sight to behold.

Throughout the night, the music and art at the Community Café connected with and highlighted all the work that IMAN has been doing to reclaim housing and neighborhoods as part of its community building initiatives over the last few years.

If imagination and creativity are indeed the keys to transforming our communities, by reclaiming our spaces and rebuilding our places, then this Community Café may have been a perfect place to fire up such healthy imagination and creativity.

Photos by Eve Rivera. See more photos from the show here.

Green Reentry: From House to Home

“We want to change how society views formerly-incarcerated individuals,” says Dr. Rolanda West. Speaking of a training program for the brothers reentering the Chicago Lawn community through IMAN’s Green Reentry Project, she adds that “it aims to teach the social, emotional, spiritual, leadership and, eventually, economic skills necessary to make a successful reentry into the community.”  The formation of a functional and empowering social identity is the key, according to her, to making such individuals pillars and leaders of the communities they are returning to.

The first house constructed under the Green Reentry Project is a beautiful and environmentally sound space made possible by training provided by the City of Chicago’s Department of Environment, major funding from the Islamic Society of North America and Zakat Foundation, equipment and materials from Home Depot, and resources from key donor families.  It has been up and running and is becoming a critical resource for the surrounding community.  It has hosted a series of meetings attended by residents, representatives from the City of Chicago and Green Reentry leaders, in which actions plans are being developed for how to tackle local issues such as public safety and foreclosed homes.  IMAN has provided leadership for such meetings and is in the process of becoming fully certified with the Illinois Department of Corrections so that reentering individuals can come to the Green Reentry houses upon their release.

As the house turns into a home by welcoming its first group of four formerly incarcerated brothers during the next month, current Green Reentry leaders will conduct a ten-week “Leadership and Empowerment” program designed by Dr. Rolanda West and the Alternative Education Research Institute.  Afterwards, they will undergo training to acquire the technical skills and certification required for “green” construction projects.  Then, these brothers will become responsible for the construction of the second Green Reentry house.  In this manner, Green Reentry will become a self-sustaining and self-replicating model.

IMAN has always envisioned Green Reentry as a model that can be successfully scaled up, over time, in accordance with the enormity and complexity of challenges that inner-city communities are faced with, challenges such as lack of decent housing, job skills, public safety, and effective reentry programs that are fundamentally connected and deeply entrenched.  Now this innovative and practical solution is getting the kind of attention from community leaders and public officials that can turn it into a regional and national success story.  Representatives from the offices of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Congressman Danny Davis have all toured the house recently and shown interest in both the commitment and possibilities that such work by IMAN represents.

As the residents of the Green Reentry home become invested in and responsible for the community that surrounds their home–with program such as mentoring at-risk youth of color, help for residents and weekly neighborhood cleanups–and as more leaders and lawmakers see the alternate possibilities that this project represents, it can begin to change how the community views formerly-incarcerated individuals.  Out of such change in perception toward them– they are assets not liabilities–can come the social, cultural and, finally, legal change that is required to solve some of the crises that are tearing our inner-city communities apart.  That is the change that Dr. Rolanda West talks about and is working with IMAN’s Green Reentry Project to create.

projectREACH: IMAN Inspires Change in Washington, D.C.

“I feel like we’re gonna change the world,” said Giovanni “Abdul-Majeed” Little, a projectREACH youth leader, after attending an organizing training conducted by IMAN last month in the nation’s capital.  Another attendee, Shamsuddin al-Haddad said simply that “the workshop was a success.”   Then, reflecting on what comes after, al-Haddad said: “Now we are tasked with having that same amount of commitment in carrying out the actual activities that will engage the youth we’re trying to reach.”

projectREACH, a local effort focused on Muslim youth from the Washington D.C. inner-city, has grown out of IMAN’s D.C. initiative .  IMAN has always envisioned that Muslims in other urban centers would draw on its model for dynamic civic engagement in their communities and the larger society.  As several Muslim communities expressed persistent interest in bringing IMAN to their cities, we launched the D.C. initiative to study the challenges and opportunities that other urban centers could bring.

Early on in the IMAN D.C. initiative, the needs of the Muslim youth were recognized as a priority by local leaders and projectREACH has grown around the desire and efforts to meet those needs.  projectREACH envisions youth becoming agents of social justice within their communities.  This will be achieved by preparing them to lead service-centered projects aimed at addressing needs that have continued to affect the wider population within D.C.’s inner-city.  Volunteers are working hard on the ground to respect youth and families, understand their current life realities and build authentic trusting relationships with them and local community stakeholders.  The vision also includes a physical location that could serve as a safe “third space” for community dialogue, cultural/artistic events and an entrepreneurial creative hub.

projectREACH organizes seminars and workshops to address areas of concern for local youth–such as avoiding the criminal justice system and providing practical guidance for seeking employment; it facilitates their exposure to Muslim creativity in the arts; it involves them in enriching community service experiences; it does basic math and language arts tutoring; and, last but not least, it organizes long-distance trips (e.g. to Philadelphia, Knoxville) and overnight camping retreats for youth.  In June 2010, a busload of youth from IMAN’s D.C. initiative had also traveled to C hicago, to both visit IMAN and attend Takin’ It to the Streets.  The common thread that brings all of projectREACH’s programming together is an emphasis on self-development and community empowerment.

In November, as part of IMAN’s continuing commitment to growing leadership, building capacity and developing organizing models for projectREACH, IMAN staff conducted a full day of organizing training in D.C. for its core leadership team and youth. This training introduced leaders and youth to grassroots organizing concepts and strategies, and provided a framework and common language to begin the longer-term strategic planning process for projectREACH.

A uniquely powerful aspect of IMAN’s organizing training, which resonated with the attendees, is that it explicitly grounds basic organizing concepts and strategies in the Muslim prophetic and spiritual traditions.  “The IMAN training and future gatherings like it can help revive the spirit of Muslims to solve the social problems of our society through drawing on guidance from the Qur’an and the Prophetic example,” said Sabir Talib-Deen , a local resident.  “We need to do this more. We need to see more of this.”

As a result of its consistent efforts and relationship-building over the last two years, projectREACH has secured valuable local resources and partnerships.  As projectREACH leverages these resources and relationships to improve and expand services, IMAN and its leadership are committed to staying closely connected by providing both models and on-the-ground help for engagement with the inner-city communities in Washington D.C.  Watch this space for updates.