Nearly 25 leaders gathered at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union on August 18th and 19th for IMAN’s two-day, immersive community organizing training. During the weekend-long training, participants deepened their understanding of ways to build power at the grassroots level, and explored strategies for moving their communities into action. The diverse, intergenerational group of attendees hailed from four different states seeking to sharpen their organizing skills.
Over the course of the training, IMAN’s veteran Organizing staff introduced useful tools and key concepts during various interactive exercises. Attendees learned how to conduct effective relational meetings, or “one-to-ones”, which strengthen relationships between community members through the exchange of personal stories. The group then visually mapped the “The World As It Is vs. The World As It Could Be” in small teams, sharing and comparing their visions and ideals. Participants were given time to reflect on their lived experiences, identify their own self-interest, and understand the self-interest of others, all of which are essential to foster intentional relationships and facilitate grassroots community organizing.
IMAN Roster Artist Lula Saleh, who traveled from Minneapolis for the training, infused the weekend with powerful artistic expression, including an original poem and a bluesy song enlisting the rhythmic skills of her fellow trainees. Lula also helped to re-energize leaders during the training with deep breathing exercises and free movement techniques.
In line with IMAN’s organizing philosophy, this training delivered the wisdom and inspiration of earlier generations of freedom fighters to a new generation of organizers, highlighting the beauty and importance of people uniting to address issues that directly affect them. This was the fourth training nationwide that our organizers have facilitated in 2018 using IMAN’s unique community organizing curriculum. We will continue to develop leaders across the country, carving out a healthy space for nuanced conversations about shared concerns, and transforming glaring differences into the means by which communities #FightFearBuildPower.
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.
As millions of people gathered for the sacred Hajj pilgrimage, IMAN hosted hundreds of community members during an uplifting Eid al-Adha celebration with Usama Canon, founder of Ta’leef Collective, and Yemeni scholar Syed Umar bin Hamid al Haddad, a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Longtime IMAN Arts leader Brother Ali joined these two special guests, and began the day by hosting an intimate discussion on managing trauma and supporting psycho-spiritual health with several Green ReEntry and Health Center staff members. Following that gathering, he delivered a powerful khutbah highlighting the importance of mercy and justice in strong faith communities.
Usama Canon has served as a spiritual advisor to IMAN for many years, and he met with dozens of staff and leaders after the jum’ah prayer. He acquainted his teacher–Syed Umar–with the IMAN community, and facilitated a touching introduction between Syed Umar, Shirley Muhammad, the wife of the celebrated Imam WD Mohammed, and IMAN board member Laila Muhammad, his daughter. Syed Umar then toured IMAN’s campus to experience the work’s continued growth and impact.
Throughout the afternoon, guests also enjoyed an expanded Fresh Beats & Eats Farmers Market commemorating the Eid al-Adha holiday. A free, catered lunch was distributed to all in attendance, while Ronnie Malley and his internationally acclaimed trio provided captivating musical performances to celebrate the Eid season. The market featured children’s activities like a petting zoo, and an inflatable bounce house. With the school year right around the corner, IMAN gave out dozens of free backpacks stocked with supplies to young students. IMAN’s annual Eid Al-Adha celebration represents an important opportunity to bring community members together to learn about and share in the spiritual bounties of this special moment.
IMAN is at the forefront of two impactful pieces of legislation aimed at reforming both police accountability measures in Chicago and criminal justice policy across Illinois. Organizers and leaders have continued to push residents, partner organizations and legislators to take decisive action in each of these campaigns, which seek to create safer, more dignified communities throughout the state and enact a model that may be applied in other regions.
As a key member organization within the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA), IMAN has invested over two years into the citywide effort to establish a more balanced, transparent relationship between communities and Chicago police. GAPA organizers have proposed a groundbreaking ordinance which promises real power to civilians in matters of police conduct. Several aldermen and other city officials have voiced their support for the proposal, reflecting the widespread desire of those Chicago residents for police accountability. However, several key alderman have yet to commit, leading many GAPA members to organize an agitational bus tour during which they visited aldermanic offices across the city to demand support.
The second piece of legislation in which IMAN organizers have been invested this year is SB 3489, the Path to Restoration Bill. After passing through the Illinois House and Senate, the bill remains on Governor Bruce Rauner’s desk, waiting to be signed into law. This legislation, drafted by IMAN organizers, would secure valuable rights for returning citizens across the state hoping to positively contribute to their communities. Most notably, individuals listed on Illinois’ cumbersome Child Murder and Violent Youth Offender Registry–many of whom were themselves young people when convicted of their crimes–would be able to amend inaccurate information about themselves.
If you are interested in advocating for criminal justice reform, or participating in community conversations with other leaders, legislators, residents and others directly impacted by violent crimes, contact Organizer Nasir Blackwell, email@example.com and Staff Attorney Aaron Siebert-Llera, firstname.lastname@example.org.