Legislative Update: Path to Restoration, GAPA

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, nasir@imancentral.org and Staff Attorney Aaron Siebert-Llera, siebert-llera@imancentral.org.

Organizers Focus on Local ‘Food Ecosystem’

IMAN continues to #FightFearBuildPower with several critical initiatives related to our Food Ecosystem work. Organizers and leaders have called on communities to “fight back with food” through our Corner Store Campaign, Fresh Beats and Eats Farmers Market and Backyard Garden. Food plays a critical role in our collective health and wellness, and IMAN is doubling down on both its support of existing food providers, as well as opening up additional outlets for residents to access nutritious goods.

Following a successful Refresh the Hood series during Ramadan, Corner Store Campaign organizers and leaders have advanced their outreach into new stores while deepening relationships with those already in IMAN’s network.

Fresh Beats & Eats Farmers Market returned in July, opening up a weekly space for residents to enjoy locally grown, organic produce, inspiring artistic expression and relaxing gatherings with their neighbors for the fourth consecutive year. Led by new Food Ecosystems Coordinator Eric Rodriguez, the market has added new features like a petting zoo and regular giveaways of groceries and personal care products. Fresh Beats & Eats will run through October 27, rain or shine.

Tucked in the back of one of IMAN’s properties, the Backyard Garden is flourishing. Managed by longtime leader Olisaemeka Okakpu, the garden has served as an outdoor classroom and source of fresh produce for other Food Ecosystems leaders interested in the art of urban farming. Several harvests from the garden have been delivered to the Fresh Beats & Eats Farmers Market to be distributed as samples. A local chef also conducted a live cooking demonstration with vegetables grown in the Backyard Garden, showing market-goers that they too can own their food “from seed to plate”.

There are many ways to support IMAN’s Food Ecosystems work, like purchasing local foods from Fresh Beats & Eats Farmers Market, or engaging one of our partner corner stores. To get involved as an organizer or leader, contact Corner Store Campaign Manager Sara Hamdan or Food Ecosystems Coordinator Eric Rodriguez.

I Was Sentenced to Death

I was sentenced to death by lethal injection on February 5, 1992, after being convicted of a triple homicide. The sentence was a result of a terrible moment in my young adult life. I was confronted by the people who killed my younger brother and, in an altercation that lasted only a few seconds, I committed a crime that I will regret for the rest of my life.

The first morning I woke up in prison, I realized that I could fight my death sentence by successfully fighting my premeditated murder conviction. A correctional officer asked me how I would like to spend the daily allowance of 90 minutes outside of my prison cell. I requested to go to the law library. With access to the 6’ x 9’ prison cell with a few old, dusty law books, I committed right then and there to study law and eventually became co-councel on my own case 4 years later, after the Illinois Supreme Court had reversed my conviction, and vacated my death sentence. I would no longer face the death sentence in Illinois’ again.

While incarcerated, I embraced Islam, a spiritual practice that has sustained me ever since. My first Ramadan was in 1997, the year that IMAN was incorporated. I heard about IMAN’s work a few years before my release date and within weeks of coming home, IMAN was the first organization I approached for community and support. I needed insulin for my diabetes and got it at IMAN’s Community Health Center. I needed housing and IMAN placed me into their adult leadership home. I wanted to mobilize other brothers and sisters coming out of prison to clear some of the barriers we faced while re-entering into society, and IMAN hired me as a community organizer. Two years ago, I helped IMAN draft and pass the Removing the Invisible Bars Act, and this year we’re very close to passing our second piece of parole reform legislation, the Path to Restoration Bill.

Everything I have done since returning home has been focused on getting myself and my community off of lists that criminalize and dehumanize us, and onto paths that keep us safe, healthy, and thriving. There are thousands more just like me in cities like Chicago and Atlanta all over the country, and IMAN’s 2018 ‘Off the List, On the Love’ Ramadan Drive will ensure that hundreds more get the love and opportunities they need to realize their full potential.

With your generous donation, you’ll play a part in helping us get off those lists too.

Have a blessed Ramadan,
Nasir Blackwell

Off the List, On the Love


Too many of our beloved sisters and brothers find themselves on all the wrong lists: on waiting lists to access desperately needed housing, mental health services and employment opportunities; on poverty and hunger index lists; and on criminal lists and registries that perpetually punish individuals, families and entire neighborhoods. These lists contribute to our lack of racial and social equity, and are ultimately rooted in a lack of love.

The blessed month of Ramadan is upon us, and in it, we are called to deepen our consciousness of The Divine and strengthen our bonds of mutual love. A Prophetic tradition challenges us to attain true faith by loving for our community that which we love for ourselves.

This month, we will be attempting to raise $1,500,000 during our ‘Off the List, On the Love’: 2018 Ramadan Fundraising Drive. These funds are absolutely vital to our ability to get our sisters and brothers off of lists that strip them of dignity and agency, and onto a path defined by love, opportunity and a shared vision of what our world could look like.

As always, you have a crucial role to play in this. We ask that you continue to keep IMAN’s efforts in your thoughts and prayers and that you donate generously to help us meet and exceed our goal. All contributions are zakat-eligible and tax-deductible, and can be made via check, stock, cash, or online at our website.

We pray that your support this month lists you among those who have earned the ultimate pleasure and mercy of The Most High.