Ms. Freya Powell had driven past our IMAN Atlanta office several times before she decided to stop in. She had learned about IMAN through another community partner and two months ago, finally made the decision to attend a Grassroots Power Hour session—our weekly community organizing forum that connects people in order to build power around important issues. What Ms. Freya experienced floored her. Never before, she told me, had she been in a space that affirmed so much of her humanity—that brought older generations together with young leaders, that connected returning citizens with the children of immigrants, that incorporated the arts and self-care practices as crucial components of working to uplift and transform her community.
And meeting Ms. Freya validates everything I have always known and loved about this organization. I have the privilege of being the only IMAN Atlanta staff member who has had the experience of working at both the Chicago and Atlanta sites. Over the last three years, I have witnessed IMAN’s holistic model take root and flourish organically in my home state of Georgia and can attest to IMAN’s ability to create real meaningful change—helping to pass important legislation around prisoner rights; training over 65 leaders in our signature Community Organizing curriculum; inspiring the hearts of over 1,000 people through powerful artistic expression at Community Cafés; rekindling connections to the earth through urban agriculture and healthy eating workshops; graduating three Green ReEntry cohorts; and now, on the verge of completing renovation of a 10-unit apartment complex—the most expansive Green ReEntry project IMAN has embarked on in its over 21 year history.
Ms. Freya has been inviting everyone she knows to join IMAN’s efforts and especially loves that IMAN is a space that she feels connects her to her own faith, while forming a solid and meaningful link to people of other faiths doing life-changing work in her community. In Ms. Freya’s words, “I found peace here at IMAN – it woke me up.”
Join me and Ms. Freya in supporting IMAN’s One Link, One Chain: 2019 Ramadan Drive with a generous, zakat-eligible, tax-deductible donation. Help us continue to form links like Ms. Freya in Chicago, Atlanta, and beyond.
IMAN Atlanta continues exciting growth, and the establishment of a holistic center for Mental Health Services is a key aspect of its future trajectory. Towards this goal, Atlanta staff and leaders hosted community leader and licensed professional counselor Imam Nadim Ali (LPC) to facilitate a group therapy session with the current Green ReEntry cohort.
Imam Nadim has provided community-centered counseling services for over 20 years, and has specialized experience working with vulnerable populations. During his session with the cohort, he discussed various impacts of incarceration on individuals and communities. From the challenges of emotional regulation to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Imam Nadim engaged participants with real-world examples of how life challenges can adversely affect mental health, while exploring ways to cope with such difficulties.
Bringing the effects of trauma into focus while keeping the cohort grounded, Imam Nadim emphasized the influence between pre-incarceration trauma that may be exacerbated during incarceration. He advised on how to balance one’s emotions, asking each Green ReEntry cohort member, “How are you processing your anger?” Imam Nadim added, “the core of anger is the need to be appreciated and loved.”
Carrying on the momentum from this engaging discussion, IMAN Atlanta plans to continue providing services for the Green ReEntry Cohort. In September, IMAN Atlanta will partner with Mental Health America of Georgia to host a daylong Mental Health First Aid training to equip local leaders with critical skills and basic mental health knowledge.
We are proud to announce our Spring 2018 graduates from the Green ReEntry program in Atlanta! These men began the journey as strangers this past January, and finished together as brothers.
The group of ten, led by Green ReEntry Manager Jermaine Shareef and Case Worker Arthur Majid, worked tirelessly to complete a 12-week, intensive vocational training course in plumbing, and to achieve personal and spiritual growth. The Green ReEntry brothers were surrounded by love and support from community members and loved ones who attended the graduation, as they received special recognition for their accomplishments during the uplifting and moving ceremony, which was held in Atlanta on April 21st.
Among those celebrating these extraordinary men was AJ Sabree, former Director of Reentry Services for the Georgia Department of Corrections. He reflected on how essential reentry programs are to communities like the West End area in which IMAN Atlanta operates, and the importance of providing resources necessary to confront the lingering challenges of mass incarceration.
Now that they have reached this milestone, these brothers are ready to apply both their job and life skills as they transition back into the community. They are focused on securing gainful employment and housing, and are seeking to rebuild connections with their families while remaining involved with IMAN’s work.
“We are a team. One unit, and one chain. We succeed by strengthening each other.” Antonio Jasper, 25, and Ishmael Tillery, 21, recite these powerful words every day alongside their eight fellow Atlanta Green ReEntry cohort members.
Currently living in a transitional home after completing his prison sentence, Antonio heard about Green ReEntry from a mentor: Ms. Patricia Bennett, CEO of Empowering Men and Women on the Move. Antonio was incarcerated at a young age, and thus has not had the opportunity to amass any work experience. After being admitted into the program, he has eagerly embarked on gaining the knowledge and skills that were previously denied to him.
“All I had growing up was the streets, selling drugs. I was in an environment where people were shooting folks. You gotta hide from the cops, gotta constantly look over your shoulder. [But here in Green ReEntry] you can talk to people. It’s a positive environment. Everyone is helping each other to succeed, so that I won’t go back down the same road.”
The brotherly bonds with his instructors and peers motivate Antonio to make positive contributions to this year’s cohort to redirect his life trajectory toward a stable career. In five years, he hopes to attain “master plumber” status, and help create a healing environment for young men in his community.
Ishmael joined the program to explore his passion for plumbing. He hopes to one day work alongside Jermaine Shareef, a certified master plumber and Atlanta’s Green ReEntry Manager. While not a returning citizen himself, Ishmael deeply values the strength and camaraderie of the Green ReEntry brotherhood. “It’s a respect thing. Your background doesn’t matter, because you’re here now [to improve yourself]. We’re here to uplift one another.”
Reflecting on the new cohort, Shareef proudly states: “These guys want to be part of a powerful and meaningful change to prevent others from falling victim to the system.”