Meet IMAN’s Health & Wellness Advocates

IMAN leaders Markus Harris and Cedric Smith recently stepped into roles as Health & Wellness Advocates, working full time at the intersection of our community organizing and farmers’ market work. We sat down with both young men, longtime Marquette Park residents, to discuss their experiences on staff.


How did you become Health & Wellness Advocates?

M: We were hired after completing [IMAN community partner] St. Sabina’s Community Youth Employment Program, which was a very impactful experience. We learned how important your character is in the workplace. First impressions matter, it’s cliché but it really does matter. So really beginning to incorporate that knowledge into my outlook and my actions will help me succeed at IMAN, and in my future professional life. In the past, we were both connected to IMAN as leaders, so to be hired through this program just brings things full circle.

C: I look at my prior volunteer experience at IMAN as what really helped jump-start this job opportunity. I was able to establish relationships with staff and other leaders by way of this, and that made things much smoother when I transitioned to this paid position.
My past work experience taught me a lot of what the St. Sabina training offered, but I definitely improved my interpersonal skills through their program. I communicate and express my thoughts and feelings in more effective ways. I’ve applied that at IMAN and I’m seeing the benefits now.

How have the past few months been working at IMAN full-time? What projects did you work on?
M: The Muslim Run Corner Store Campaign, and the Farmers’ Market have been the main work. As Health & Wellness Advocates, our main focus is increasing community access to healthy food options and spreading awareness about the importance of overall wellness. Right now, I’m working on how to market the Corner Store Campaign more effectively at the local level, mostly through social media. I’m working to engage more young people in the campaign. I’ve also helped support various events as a volunteer, like the monthly Senior Wellness Luncheon.

C: We also helped reestablish the backyard garden at the Green ReEntry house on Fairfield Avenue.

Cedric, you recently started volunteering at IMAN and very quickly assumed this position as a Health & Wellness Advocate. How was your experience transitioning into this deeper role and working full-time?
C: Well a paycheck is a big difference between my volunteer experience and what I’m doing now [laughs]. This experience really helped me better prioritize my time and my energy in all aspects of my life. I spent the majority of my week at IMAN of course, but I also have a life outside of IMAN. So managing my time and being productive at work has shown me the benefits of taking advantage of my time in a general way.
Also I’ve had great opportunities to see the city and get introduced to different communities. I traveled with Rami when he’s spoken at different universities, I met leaders at other community organizations, I went to City Hall for press conferences. All that has resulted in a lot of personal development for me, experiencing these spaces.

Why is your work so important to you?
M: The Health & Wellness Advocate’s title speaks for itself. Trying your best to influence your community to live in a more healthy and beneficial way. It’s about setting a good example and encouraging those around you to try their best to do the same.

C: I believe in the idea of change. Positive change is something that this community desperately needs, and that’s including my own self as well. So bringing about change is what motivates me to do this work, and I’m proud to be able to do that.

Organizers, Artists Brave Cold to #FightFearBuildPower

Despite freezing temperatures and strong winds, organizers, activists, artists and committed families gathered near Trump Tower for #FightFearBuildPower: Refugee Remix Rally last Saturday to collectively lift up the voices of refugee and undocumented communities. Commissioner Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia reminded the crowd to stay vigilant against individual acts of oppression, while Fr. Michael Pfleger linked the cold weather to the harsh conditions that asylum-seekers of all backgrounds face on a daily basis while seeking justice and stability for their families.

Inspiring artistic expression accompanied the powerful words of support from various community leaders. Syrian-American vocalist Bassel Almadani, along with his band, The Supernaturals, performed a compelling piece based on his relatives’ experience trying to escape war. Libyan-American rapper Khaled M. shared a piece on the struggles his father faced emigrating to the U.S.

The #FightFearBuildPower event series allows IMAN to continuously connect the narratives of those facing injustice and marginalization, and we urge you to stay connected to the effort by joining the thousands of people nationwide who’ve signed the #FightFearBuildPower Pledge. Thank you to all those who attended the rally, followed the action on social media, helped spread the word throughout your networks and continually keep IMAN’s work in your prayers.

#FightFearBuildPower: Refugee Remix Rally was presented by IMAN, sponsored by Zakat Foundation of America and co-convened by Equal Voice Action Network and the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO), with special support from the Catholic Theological Union.

IMAN ED Named Chicago Champion of Freedom

Amid applause from elected officials, long-time community organizers and fellow IMAN staff, Rami Nashashibi was honored as a City of Chicago Champion of Freedom during the Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Breakfast. His remarks connected King’s legacy to current police and criminal justice reform efforts, and encouraged organizers and officials alike to embrace the Department of Justice report released that same day as a catalyst for real change.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel thanked Rami for serving as “an ambassador shepherding change”, and praised IMAN’s model of promoting health, wellness and healing in inner-city communities. The breakfast—hosted by the Office of the Mayor—was attended by leaders in various spheres of religious, civic and business life who represented a diverse array of backgrounds and faith traditions.

Longtime Board Co-Chair Clyde El-Amin commented, “The fact that IMAN continues to receive broad-based recognition like this, particularly in these uncertain times, is a testament to how resonant the healing power of our tradition can be.” Only a few days later, IMAN was back to the grind: hosting an annual community luncheon of its own, and coordinating the inspiring Fighting Fear/Building Power two-city event.

IMAN Organizers Join Citywide Call for Police Accountability

Throughout the fall, organizers and leaders have diligently mounted a campaign focused on securing new police protocols and oversight that will ultimately lead to greater accountability for officers and the Chicago Police Department itself. Led by Organizing Director Shamar Hemphill and Green ReEntry organizer Nasir Blackwell, IMAN’s police accountability work sits at the intersection of larger efforts focused on criminal justice reform and dignified community building.

The campaign aims to address law enforcement policies in all their breadth, focusing on issues from immigration status to stop-and-frisk encounters. IMAN has aligned with nearly a dozen other organizations across the city, representing a dynamic cross-section of active citizens and laying a firm foundation of unity. Partner organizations include: Communities United, Enlace, Target Area Development Corporation, UCCRO, SWOP, One Northside, Action Now and S.O.U.L.

In November, dozens of Marquette Park residents convened at IMAN’s Youth & Arts Wellness Center for a critical “Community Conversation.” During the gathering, attendees spoke candidly about their experiences with local police and voiced their hopes for future improvements, while learning about the citywide campaign and ways to get connected to it. IMAN will continue to help lead the push for substantial police accountability measures in the city of Chicago.

Interested in joining the campaign? Please contact Shamar Hemphill or Nasir Blackwell to learn more and to get involved.