Reflecting on Pastor Ron Taylor

Pastor Ron Taylor, a devoted community organizer, faith leader and one of IMAN’s dearest allies, passed away on January 20th, 2018. Lovingly known as “Pastor Ron”, Taylor was one of the founding members of United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO), where he served as Executive Director. He was also the founder and Senior Pastor of Disciples for Christ Church in Oak Lawn, Illinois.

Pastor Ron worked diligently as a faithful servant and a compassionate community leader, always uplifting those around him. At UCCRO, he dedicated himself issues such as criminal justice and immigration reform advocacy, and worked relentlessly to connect communities across racial and religious lines. Pastor Ron was a passionate organizer and ingenious leader, but most of all he was a friend.

IMAN staff who worked closely with Pastor Ron over the years shared their reflections on the profound impact he has had on their lives:

Shamar Hemphill
Senior Organizer

“I had the pleasure of working closely with and being mentored by Pastor Ron for over 10 years. In every open forum or internal strategy meeting, I’ve always referred to him as our “Muslim Pastor.” He truly was a shining example of leadership from behind the scenes, walking humbly while being a strong force for good. He championed working across divided communities, and taught me how to envision what our communities can become. It is with many tears, I can truly say that I loved Pastor Ron with all my heart. His legacy will live on through my work, but his loss will most definitely be felt in many organizing spaces where he left a big mark in the work.”

Alia Bilal
Director of Community Relations

“Before I officially started working in Development, I was IMAN’s main staff person assigned to the UCCRO team and Pastor Ron was the main staff member from his organization at the time. The UCCRO team met twice a month, traveled to Springfield together dozens of times per year, and planned advocacy events with one another. The year that Pastor Ron became the Executive Director of UCCRO was also the year I formally transitioned into IMAN’s Development Department and passed my UCCRO hat to one of my other IMAN colleagues. One of my favorite memories of him happened that year, when I attended the annual UCCRO Convention. I walked in the door and the first person I saw was Pastor Ron. I told him that I wasn’t quite sure how to just be a participant at UCCRO events, that it felt wrong to not be one of the organizers like I used to be. I remember him raising his eyebrow and giving me the huge sideways grin that he always wore and saying, ‘Alia, the Lord just answered both our prayers because our emcee just called in sick and we don’t have anyone to replace her, so congratulations, you’re our new emcee!’ And that was Pastor Ron: he led with grace, put people to work where he knew they would thrive, and always trusted in God to make things right at the end of the day. I will miss him so much.”

Sara Hamdan
Organizer

“In 2015, during the Dyett High School hunger strike, the organizers staged a sit-in at city hall. It felt a little somber–while the fight around Dyett was some of the most inspirational organizing I have witnessed in Chicago, it was all still cloaked in the undeniable reality of the lengths that black and brown communities have to go through to prove their humanity and deservingness. At some point, Pastor Ron, who I had been sitting next to, got up and starting leading the entire group in a spiritual. It was a beautiful moment where I could feel the power of the collective through the undeniable power and leadership of Pastor Ron.”

MLK ‘Day of Action’ Honors Legacy, Engages Residents

This MLK Day, dozens of leaders took to Marquette Park’s streets to strengthen their relationships with local residents and build new bonds with neighbors not yet connected to IMAN’s work. As a gesture of appreciation and a continuation of Dr. King’s call for a “beloved community”, organizers led the assembly and distribution of 200 MLK Legacy Bags filled with bus passes, warm blankets and informational materials to families within a half-mile of IMAN’s Chicago office. Also included in each Legacy Bag was a graphic representation of the political and social demands that Dr. King famously nailed to the door of Chicago’s City Hall in 1966; residents were encouraged to reflect on the progress made on those demands since that historic day.

Steady snow fell throughout the morning as the teams of leaders made their rounds. They were joined by the entire cohort of Green ReEntry brothers, who provided complimentary snow shoveling service to each block. Following the day’s outreach efforts, both the cohort and leaders enjoyed the opportunity to share one another’s stories over lunch. The discussion was guided by IMAN organizers Shamar Hemphill and Sara Hamdan, and centered on the relevance of King’s Chicago campaigns to their present-day lived experiences.

As IMAN honors the enduring legacy of Dr. King, we also lift up the life and impact of a beloved educator and mentor to young students across Chicago’s Southwest Side: Mr. Victor Harbison. A long time civics and history teacher at nearby Gage Park High School where many of IMAN’s youth leaders were his students, Harbison recently passed away. His passion for justice and pride in developing young leaders rooted in the community was felt by all who were fortunate to have known him. Harbison played a key role in the establishment of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Living Memorial. Alongside his students, he spearheaded an archival project highlighting Dr. King’s seminal 1966 housing march through Marquette Park. Their research and diligence laid the foundation for the memorial which today stands as a testament to the grassroots organizing tradition. Please click here to learn more about Mr. Harbison’s preservation of this history, and keep his family in your thoughts and prayers.

Trainings Engage Emerging Organizers in Chicago & Detroit

This year, IMAN’s Community Organizing Training returned to Catholic Theological Union in Hyde Park, where 40 leaders gathered to strengthen their understanding of concepts and skills for making change in their communities. This year’s training participants brought together longtime IMAN leaders from our Green Reentry and our organizing campaigns, and included leaders from across Chicagoland and from out of state, working on a range of issues in their communities.

In addition to IMAN’s standard modules focused on the importance of knowing and sharing our stories, relationship building, self-interest, and power, this year’s training highlighted the connection between organizing, the arts, and mental health, which has long characterized IMAN’s holistic model. PHENOM, a longtime IMAN arts leader, performed pieces on power and community building, and Licensed Clinical Social Worker Suzanne Chopra led modules around the importance of goal setting and self care.

At the same time the trainees were forging common bonds in Hyde Park, the tragic events in Charlottesville were polarizing the nation. Witnessing the chaotic violence in Virginia’s streets served as a stark reminder of why holistic spaces like IMAN’s Organizing Training and Grassroots Power Hour are essential to establishing a truly beloved community.

A couple weeks after the training in Chicago, IMAN organizers traveled to Michigan and facilitated a special, daylong workshop for leaders from grassroots partner organization Dream of Detroit. The session emphasized the importance of understanding shared narratives, and contextualized key IMAN organizing principles around issues of housing and other campaigns that Dream of Detroit leaders are currently engaging.

God willing, organizers will continue to spread IMAN’s model to leaders throughout Chicago and across the country. For more information on IMAN’s organizing efforts, contact Senior Organizer Shamar Hemphill at shamar@imancentral.org

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.