Reflections: IMAN ATL Gets Out the Vote

Over the past few months, I’ve joined fellow IMAN organizers engaging with West Atlanta community members about the upcoming elections and encouraging them to vote. Through this, I learned about specific issues affecting the community and situated them in our nation’s sociopolitical context. These have been pivotal moments for me as a community organizer and graduate student of Public Health.

While canvassing, I encountered West Atlanta families who have lived in the community for over 40 years, and youth who are enrolled in local colleges and universities. By connecting with these neighbors, I discovered that each of them plays a role in the community, making West Atlanta truly unique.

On the college campuses, students shared with me their concerns about gun violence and public safety. Just last year, Georgia enacted a ‘campus carry’ law allowing students to bring secure and legal firearms onto campus for protection as a in response to recent campus shootings. Many students in Atlanta protested this legislation, wondering how more guns would make them any safer.

Meanwhile, the elders shared concerns about displacement and gentrification in a community that is changing in many ways, especially commercially. Long-standing residents find themselves stuck in the middle of a sharp decline in affordable housing, and a clear increase in community redevelopment.

I discovered a common thread linking the generations. The work of serving and uplifting the community must continue; the torch of leadership will be passed. But, how can we nurture that intergenerational collaboration if residents no longer feel secure in their homes and neighborhoods?

The experiences of the past months have infused my GOTV efforts with a deeper meaning. I became more determined than ever to ensure that residents were registered to vote, despite the reports of mysterious voter purges in Georgia. The #FightFearBuildPower movement continues, and IMAN Atlanta is fully aligned with the West End and citywide communities around issues directly affecting us.

Paint & Sip Power Hour Soothes ATL Community

IMAN Roster Artist and Sacred Cypher Creative Kelly Crosby recently led a “Paint & Sip” session for the Atlanta community as part of the Grassroots Power Hour series. In the spring, Crosby completed an artist residency rooted in the concept of “waging beauty”, and this past month’s gathering successfully introduced attendees to ways the can use artistic expression as a personal and collective healing tool.

Before starting to paint, community members reflected on and discussed the relationship between colors and emotions. Crosby encouraged guests to more intentionally choose their color palettes, and use that self-examining exercise to more authentically and safely access their feelings. The painting activity was themed “Envisioning Your Safe Haven” and, as strokes of blue, red, purple, yellow, and green blended across the canvases, each artist imagined, created, or recreated their ideal safe space.

Jayida Ché Herbal Tea Spot co-founder Aleathia Saleem helped the attendees tap further into their creative energies, serving several flavors of her carefully crafted tea. From the “Pure Peace” blend to “You Had Me At Rose”, each cup was filled with Jayida Ché’s signature mixture of tea leaves, roots, and flowers. Saleem stressed to the community members the nutritional benefits and soothing effects of ingredients like chamomile, lavender, ginseng, hibiscus, rose, and lemon balm.

With a canvas in one hand and a cup in the other, each community member then shared the reflections on their safe haven. Many had created vibrant images of nature landscapes and peaceful homes, but one Green ReEntry cohort member presented his version of the iconic ‘Thinking Man’ figure in a bold contrast of forest green and cobalt blue. “My safe space is not external, it is internal. My mind is my safe space,” he explained.

IMAN Atlanta thanks Kelly Crosby, Aleathia Saleem and all our Grassroots Power Hour attendees for bringing holistic healing to the community. Stay tuned for exciting updates on all the Fall events in Atlanta by following IMAN Atlanta on Facebook.

IMAN-Drafted ‘Path to Restoration Bill’ Signed into Law

After months of community engagement, grassroots outreach and advocacy trips to the state capitol, the IMAN-drafted Path to Restoration Bill was finally signed into law last month. This crucial legislation generated bipartisan support, and establishes several amendments promoting transparency within the Illinois registry system tracking individuals convicted of violent crimes against minors. Alongside the Removing Invisible Bars Bill–passed by IMAN organizers in 2016–the Path to Restoration Bill advances efforts to open pathways for returning citizens to positively contribute to their communities without fear of lingering surveillance and stigma.

The Path to Restoration Bill was born out of personal connections between our leaders, fellow community members, and IMAN organizers. As those most directly affected by the opaque, overly punitive Illinois registry system shared the obstacles they faced, Staff Attorney Aaron Siebert-Llera and Staff Organizer Nasir Blackwell took the lead in gathering support for the bill from the grassroots level to the state legislature. Several instructors and alumni of our Green ReEntry program stepped forward to tell their stories to the media and public officials alike.

The bill will go into effect in Illinois on January 1, 2019, giving residents the power to file a petition with the State’s Attorney’s Office in the county of their conviction. Such a petition could amend any erroneous information attributed to them on the registry, and/or have their names erased from the registry in the case of significant errors. IMAN organizers are currently developing an implementation and education strategy to help individuals navigate the newly amended state registry.

IMAN’s push to #FightFearBuildPower continues, and community-informed criminal justice reform remains at the forefront of our efforts. To learn more about this and other campaigns, please attend our weekly Grassroots Power Hours on Tuesday evenings, or email organize@imancentral.org for more information.

Organizing Training Engages Emerging Leaders in Chicago

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.