Local Dentists Help Boost IMAN’s Oral Health Work

The recently formed partnership between IMAN and the Chicago Muslim Dental Society (CMDS) has already yielded significant, mutual benefits. After the formal launch of a biweekly “working group” last month, IMAN’s Oral Health work has received crucial advice on best practices, generous donations of industry-standard equipment, and a growing pool of volunteer dentists. At the same time, CMDS has been able to make a tremendous impact in a Chicago community that is drastically underserved with regard to oral health.

Volunteer relationships and community partnerships have always been central to the mission and expansion of our larger health and wellness work. Since the launch of IMAN’s Oral Health Clinic in 2016, plans for strategic, holistic expansion have been prepared. What began as basic dental screenings and referrals has now grown into a fully operational oral health center serving a growing number of local patients.

IMAN’s relationship with CMDS pre-dates its Oral Health Clinic, initiated through a bond with a long-time supporter. Understanding the dire need for accessible, affordable dental care on Chicago’s Southwest Side, both organizations brought their expertise to the table in order to build the infrastructure necessary for a meaningful intervention. As IMAN’s Health Clinic offerings-including oral health-continue to grow, the CMDS partnership demonstrates the profound impact of a broader Chicagoland Muslim health community which truly believes in and contributes to delivering dignified care to individuals and families most directly-affected by health crises.

Atlanta Community Gathers to Support ReEntry Efforts

In 2011, approximately 1,885 individuals were released from state or federal custody each day – that’s 688,384 individuals that year, according to the National Institute of Justice. Returning citizens struggle with unstable housing, inadequate employment and over policing, all issues that often contribute to incarceration in the first place. What can be done to ease their transition back home and back into their communities?

Nearly 100 community members, behavioral health professionals, lawyers and law professors, mothers, and returning citizens themselves attended a two-part IMAN Sessions event: ‘Investing in Lives #BeyondIncarceration’. Discussions revolved around IMAN’s Green ReEntry program, and ways it can continue to offer support to returning citizens via life skills training and workforce development.

Judge Fatima El-Amin and IMAN Atlanta’s Green ReEntry Manager, Jermaine Shareef, spoke to a packed crowd about their personal experiences with the criminal justice system and reentry work. Various points of view and approaches to the criminal justice system were raised. Tears were shed, hugs were shared, and the conversation ran deep.

Community members connected and shared additional information after the conclusion of the first #BeyondIncarceration gathering. It became evident to IMAN Atlanta staff that the issues around incarceration and reentry require continued committed, grassroots community space. This realization sparked IMAN Sessions: Investing in Lives #BeyondIncarceration Part 2, which took place in late September.

At that event, IMAN Atlanta’s second Green ReEntry cohort was introduced, and the action plan created at the first #BeyondIncarceration discussion was made public. Thank you to all the guests who shared their valuable perspectives on how to establish effective reentry programs. As IMAN incorporates a holistic approach to meet the needs of Atlanta’s returning citizens, the importance of continuing to engage those most directly affected by the criminal justice system cannot be overstated.

Green ReEntry Expands Outreach with New Staff

After years of helping returning citizens successfully reacclimate to their communities, the Green ReEntry program is poised to significantly deepen its impact. In partnership with the Emerson Collective, Green ReEntry has expanded the size of its cohorts from a handful of brothers to a dynamic, intergenerational group of over 30 men.

To facilitate the continued success of Green ReEntry participants, IMAN has hired three highly skilled full-time staff: Case Manager Billy Moore, and Case Workers Ali Kanoya and Gemali Ibrahim. We sat down with the new team to learn more about their stories and their vision for Green ReEntry’s future growth.

What does the Green ReEntry program have to offer?

Billy: We’re working with men who are really facing significant challenges to their wellbeing, so it’s imperative that our work has a positive impact. Our goal is to shift the way that these guys think about themselves and their communities, and we’ve developed a curriculum to achieve that by instilling values of brotherhood, professionalism and conflict resolution.

Ali: Life skills training is another key component. We speak a language the participants understand, and we grew up in similar communities to theirs. Our job is to be a guide and mentor to young brothers who haven’t had that luxury thus far in their lives.

What inspires you to get involved in this work? It’s far from easy.

Gemali: I feel the most spiritually attuned in those moments when I’m recognizing the interconnectedness of the human family. One of the ways God has shown me that He is real has been through brotherhood. Helping my fellow community members is a practice that’s been a part of my life since childhood. It’s in my DNA at this point, and I consider IMAN and the surrounding area to be my community.

Billy: Returning citizens looking to get back on track, avoid re-offending, and contribute positively to their communities must do so with extremely limited resources. This opportunity to serve others is a blessing, because I know all too well what it feels like to sit on the other side of the desk and need help successfully reintegrating into society. IMAN has been in the trenches for years now doing the work, directing significant resources to those who need them in a way that’s relevant and compassionate.

Ali: I will never forget a realization that I had during my final days of incarceration. I remember seeing intelligent, strong-willed, physically fit, and brave brothers all around me. It hurt to see the beauty of our community locked up like that. I wanted to see that beauty flourish back at home, doing something positive in the streets. I still want that, and Green ReEntry is the best outlet I’ve seen to accomplish that goal.

At this current moment in Chicago, why is the Green ReEntry program so necessary?

Ali: Chicago has been associated with gangs and violence for generations, but what can’t be forgotten is the fact that those traditions also included real valor and codes of ethics that people lived by. That legacy has worn away, and we see the youth in chaos on many levels as a result. All of these young guys aren’t monsters. That’s an artificial message that’s being promoted in the culture, but that’s not who these guys really are at their core. We need to reach back and encourage young men to develop a sense of accountability, perseverance and dignity. God willing, we can shift that culture.

Gemali: I remember meeting a brother at Ramadan Reflections. He said he refused to bring his children because he wasn’t sure about “what kind of neighborhood IMAN is in.” He lives maybe 30 minutes from the office. That affected me, because of how much I love this city and the relationships that I’ve built here. But, if you turn on the TV, you understand how he can feel that fear. I am inspired by the example of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as he first entered the city of Medina. He instructed the people to spread peace, feed the hungry, and spend time at night in prayer. We need to reflect more deeply on the fact that he said “spread peace” first.

Billy: Chicago is a world-class city, there’s no denying that. But, what is becoming clearer even in mainstream media is that the story of Chicago, in reality, is a tale of two cities. The wellbeing of our part of the city isn’t prioritized. You hear about the violence and the homicides, the 40% unemployment among young men in Englewood, the 54 closed schools, and the underrepresentation of Black-owned businesses. Legislators and other officials play a role, but programs like Green ReEntry are what really empower individuals and families to take control over their lives in a meaningful way.

Ceramics Heal during Ramadan

During the soul-soothing days of Ramadan, IMAN’s resident art instructors hosted a special weeklong class called “Illuminations: Fasting & Ceramic Art” inside the Beloved Community Studio. The intimate seminar explored the spiritual benefits of fasting across various spiritual and cultural traditions, while teaching basic ceramics techniques like molding, painting, glazing and positive/negative space.

The ‘Illuminations’ class was led by Mariana Lopez—a healing practitioner and soon-to-be licensed art therapist—and Khalid Partee—the current Green ReEntry instructor who discovered the restorative power of ceramics while incarcerated. They curated a rejuvenating safe space for dozens of residents from some of Chicago’s most vulnerable communities, helping each student tap into their creative potential and produce incredible pieces of art.

In the coming months, we hope to further transform the Ceramic Arts Studio into the first full-time facility of its kind in the larger Marquette Park area. This project is poised to affect over 750 individuals through a multitude of projects, classes and unique workshops. Be sure to follow IMAN on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to check out some of the beautiful artwork coming out of the studio!