Food For Life Forum: Research & Discussion Strengthens Campaign

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 beingFood 4 Life Panel” 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.

The Englewood Healthy Community Forum and Muslim Run Update

Healthy Englewood Forum Breakout SessionThe Englewood Healthy Community Forum was held Saturday, June 18th, in the Great Hall of Kennedy King College, as a collaboration between community-based organizations in Englewood, the Englewood Neighborhood Health Clinic, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN). More than 150 community residents attended the forum and either provided feedback for legislators on changes they perceive as critical to the health and wellness of their community or learned more about the current and potential food options available in their neighborhood. The program was interactive from beginning to end, with a legislative panel session that included both local and state policy makers, in addition to a solutions panel that featured local grocery and convenient store managers and Dr. Rami Nashashibi, IMAN’s Executive Director, who spoke to the importance of the Fresh Food Fund allocation and the work of the Muslim Run campaign. The last hour of the forum focused on skill building, where participants had their choice of six different workshops, including Growing Food, Food and Nutrition Resources, Mobilizing Community Residents, Getting Healthy Food in Our Community, Neighborhood Safety and Healthy Children. Dr. Rami Nashashibi and Shamar Hemphill of IMAN hosted the Mobilizing Community Residents workshop and garnered the largest number of attendees in one session; 30 community residents and 15 IMAN leaders. Participants provided wonderful feedback and expressed satisfaction with all aspects of the forum. They spoke about looking forward to a more unified approach to work involving food access in Englewood in the future.

The Muslim Run campaign is hard at work in all three tracks: business, education and policy. This month the business track submitted a proposal to the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) recommending that the CLOCC engage corner store owners and community residents in working together to provide alternatives to unhealthy food options currently available in neighborhood stores. The education track is preparing an overall program to kick off a grassroots education campaign, which includes re-surveying store owners and community residents to collect data on the status of the problems surrounding food from their perspectives. The policy track is continuing to educate both local and state legislators on the goals of the campaign and urge them to direct additional resources into the community to increase the availability of more affordable healthy foods.