2011 has arguably been the most progressive and successful year of IMAN’s ongoing Muslim Run Campaign for Health, Wellness and Healing. In contrast to the big-business based solutions to food desserts that would see massive grocery corporations open their smaller, less staffed and less stocked storefronts in the very same places that their premium stores abandoned, Muslim Run is promoting a vision that still values local ownership and small businesses. We believe that if this campaign can demonstrate the ability to mobilize an entire community to work with storeowners to produce a store model that is dignified, beautified and respectful, we can reduce and eliminate the need for any chain grocers in low-income communities across the city and country.
This year, four stores in the West Englewood community of Chicago signed on to IMAN’s campaign; Payless Grocers, our most continuous and committed partner, Stop Shop Mini Market, Eddies Food Mart and Miami Foods. These stores were secured after several months of outreach and relationship building that has culminated in opportunities for the community, the stores themselves, and IMAN’s overall vision. In addition to receiving new signage and other help to increase food traffic, each store will become a site for the distribution of IMAN’s health and wellness education curriculum. Developed with IMAN’s Arts and Culture department as well as the Free Health Clinic, the curriculum will be a holistic program that addresses living healthy lifestyles and the dynamics of inner-city stores and community relations. Through a partnership with Chicago’s Healthy Places initiative, one store will receive resources for beautification such as lighting and floor repair, as well as new refrigeration. We are proud that this year alone, both Payless Grocers and Miami Foods have begun to clear out space in their stores for new produce sections and begun conversations with local residents about what types of foods they would like to see offered.
With the continued support of our leaders on the Muslim Run steering committee and working groups who really pushed the campaign forward this year, we expect 2012 to be even more productive. In addition to the full implementation of the grassroots education curriculum within the stores themselves, IMAN plans to host nearly 30 residents and storeowners in training that will build strong relationships and increase awareness around healthy living and policy education. While the Illinois legislature approved the Fresh Food Fund in 2010, they have yet to appropriate funds so IMAN will continue to push forward on this effort with increased advocacy in both Chicago and the state capital of Springfield. 2012 will also witness the fusion of art and organizing at IMAN in a very organic way as we dedicate at least one Community Cafe to educating and mobilizing around the campaign, including an interactive workshop the next day showing the audience how to truly engage with these sometimes-evasive issues.
The landscape of food access in inner-city Chicago has changed over the past five years and Muslim Run has been able to adapt and remain a viable program for community members and storeowners. While 2011 brought great strides, we understand that the success of this campaign is contingent on the development of a sustainable and replicable model that can be used in low-income and inner-city communities across the country. Each step in this process toward creating a more just food environment has brought clarity about the complex nature of the problem. So long as community residents continue to buy in, store owners continue to partner, and you, our base, continues to support our work, we’re confident that the Muslim Run Campaign for Health, Wellness and Healing is better positioned now than ever before to bring real, systemic change to the Southwest Side of Chicago.
A little over a month ago, IMAN announced a major milestone in the evolution of our free Health Clinic; with support from Islamic Relief USA the Clinic now has expanded hours that will allow us to serve 50% more patients on a regular basis. Since that time, while adjusting to our increased hours, we have also continued to invest in the infrastructure of our Clinic such that future expansion efforts are matched with the capacity to serve and help more community members.
There are currently four doctors volunteering their services, each hailing from a different hospital across the city. In the coming weeks, we anticipate engaging at least four more whom we expect will commit to regular, consistent volunteer hours at our facility. Currently operating with the capacity to see over 40 patients per week, we expect that the efforts to expand the Clinic to five full days of service will be bolstered by the increased efforts of our current and new volunteer physicians. Furthermore, a new clinic management database and the return of our Lab Technician, Mohammed Hussain, after an extended family visit in India, are all healthy indicators for the Clinic’s continued growth.
In May, IMAN will begin hosting a nutrition and exercise class with the help of Heath Education, Advocacy, Research and Training (H.E.A.R.T.). This class is made possible with the help of American Muslim Health Professionals (AMHP), which has also enlisted IMAN’s support in promoting First Lady Michelle Obama’s healthy living program, “Let’s Move.” Bolstered by the gracious support of Islamic Relief USA, a growing number of partnerships only aids in our clinic’s ability to touch an ever-increasing number of under- and uninsured patients and ultimately meet the mission of providing high-quality, comprehensive, accessible and culturally competent health care to a diverse patient population.
IMAN began hosting its Drumming and Storytelling class at the beginning of April, the first of three six-week sessions being offered this year. Infused with the knowledge and experience of Sekou Conde, founding member of the Seneke Ensemble and a seasoned drummer of over 35 years, students are learning the musical art of percussion as well as coming to understand the history and culture from which the art originates. Like many of IMAN’s skill-building opportunities for youth, there is a critical knowledge component to this class that makes it more than a simple lesson in drumming.
Sekou shares that opportunities for youth to engage in the arts are “crucial to the development of young minds and encourages discipline, wisdom and unity of people.” His point resonates with IMAN’s continuous efforts to use art as a tool to bring together people of different backgrounds, ultimately with the intention of inspiring social change. This latest effort to provide a safe and healthy space for young people to develop as future leaders is beginning with a diverse group of 15 students, whose racial, religious and geographic make-up very much resemble IMAN’s broader service and organizing base.
Sekou says that while his classes often draw a diverse representation, “IMAN is a great tool for bringing together different ethnicities to promote harmony and unity.” From Drumming and Storytelling to Muslim Run, IMAN is making a concerted effort to increase cultural awareness and racial healing among the communities it engages. While there is no single solution to the myriad of issues that might stunt the development of a healthy and stable community, providing multiple outlets to address health, wellness and healing is an organization-wide goal at IMAN. Programs that cater to youth and allow them to broaden their ability to positively engage their community are yet another way of providing them a clear path of engagement with the rest of IMAN’s work and ensuring that our efforts remain intergenerational.
Nearly a year ago, IMAN partnered with the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), Chicago Community Trust and One Nation to launch the One Chicago, One Nation. The project brings together Chicagoans of diverse faiths and cultures, with an emphasis on the Muslim community, to get to know each other through addressing local needs. The effort included a successful film contest hosted by LinkTV, the training of over 100 youth and adult leaders and a series of dialogues hosted throughout the city to address pertinent local issues.
For 2011, we’ve heightened our focus on developing leaders and achieving concrete change in our communities. Community Ambassadors are proven community, campus and congregation leaders who will receive extensive training on managing interfaith dialogue and promoting a discourse of respect and cooperation across faith lines. They will learn from IFYC’s incredibly skilled trainers as well as draw from IMAN’s own unique model of community organizing to hone their skills in identifying allies, building bases and sustaining movements with respectful but effective tactics.
From a total cohort of 60 Community Ambassadors, 20 will work directly with IMAN on crafting a plan to create and sustain a more physically, spiritually, and economically healthy community on the Southwest Side of Chicago. Drawing from the arts, health and wellness work led by our free clinic, and with a focus on economic development, the Ambassadors will create IMAN’s Guide to Community Health and Wellness.
Plain and simple, there are 3 key reasons to apply for this year’s Community Ambassador cohort, specifically IMAN’s Community track:
- You will receive invaluable training and networking with like-minded, equally ambitious, individuals from across the city and suburbs
- Your contribution to a living guide on community improvement will be rewarded with a $2000 stipend
- There are no other fellow or internship opportunities with IMAN in 2011 so taking advantage of this chance to get involved in a high capacity is critical
If you love IMAN, and more importantly the work that we do; If you have just 10 hours to spare each week between February and May; If you are committed to the concept of interfaith cooperation; And if you’d like to join an effort that will alter both this community and the way Muslims are perceived as contributors to substantive change in America, YOU NEED TO APPLY TO BE A COMMUNITY AMBASSADOR.