On Saturday, March 24, IMAN and the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition teamed up to host a city-wide forum entitled, “Food For Life, A Human Right: Food Justice, Corner Stores & Race Relations in the ‘Hood.” Hosted in the UIC School of Public Health building, its attendees included South Side and West Side community residents, university researchers and students, business owners and community organizers. The forum was an open invitation to discuss the complex issues that surround Muslim and predominantly immigrant-owned “food and liquor” and other corner stores in mostly inner-city Black neighborhoods. IMAN has been working with Muslim immigrant store-owners since 2007 through Muslim Run: A Campaign for Health, Wellness and Healing. This initiative has created a platform for the development of a Principles Document (10-point Statement of Intent) and funding through the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children’s (CLOCC) Healthy Places Initiative, and provide the organization with both a guide and resources to work with stores to change the current “food and liquor” model to one of health and wellness.
The partnership between IMAN and the research team led by Dr. Angela Odoms-Young from UIC is a unique and strategic alliance to help facilitate sound solutions to this complex issue. The work of Dr. Odoms-Young and her team focuses on understanding social, cultural, and environmental determinants of dietary behaviors (food shopping, purchasing and consumption), and diet-related diseases (cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease) in low-income and minority populations. This work coupled with IMAN’s Muslim Run campaign helped to spark a meaningful dialogue amongst forum attendees, providing an open line of communication for healing, reconciliation and change to begin.
Food For Life had over 100 attendees and began with a welcome and presentation from Dr. Odoms-Young. She discussed the current food environment on the South and West Sides of Chicago, and the barriers and facilitators to healthy foods in these communities. This was followed by a brief history of the Muslim Run campaign and the importance of corner stores on the “well being” of the communities they disrupt, given by IMAN’S Executive Director Dr. Rami Nashashibi. He then introduced the music video “Liquor Store,” written and performed by Chicago’s own Mikkey Halsted. The video segued into a panel discussion facilitated by Shamar Hemphill, Youth Director and Organizer at IMAN. Panel participants included; Ahlam Jbara, Associate Director of Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC), Charles Martin, Store Manager of Payless Grocery Store, Qaid Hassan, Manager and Director of Whole Earth Meats, and Sheelah Muhammad, Co-Founder of Fresh Moves Mobile Produce Market. The questions asked at the end of the panel indicated that the attendees had been intellectually and emotionally stimulated by the discussion.
After the panel discussion, forum participants were escorted to lunch and a breakout session facilitated by IMAN leaders and community volunteers. They discussed “liquor store” issues in small groups with their fellow attendees, from the perspectives of storeowners, children, community residents, policy makers and their own selves. Also presented during lunch was a photo exhibition by participants of the Chicago Department of Public Health’s Greater Englewood Healthy Start men’s program. Dr. Nashashibi closed Saturday’s event with a “call to action,” inviting all participants to get involved in every stage of the campaign to transform corner stores into healthy places for wellness and education, and to get engaged in an organizing campaign for legislative accountability. Closing prayer was said by Imam Misbahu Rufai, CIOGC’s Director for Urban Development, ending the event on a wonderful chord of hope and solidarity.