Organizers Push Back Against Violent Offender Registry

Continuing the work of removing the “invisible bars” that restrict the formerly incarcerated, IMAN organizers have mounted a grassroots campaign to address the injustices of a registry system that threatens to further criminalize men and women who are trying to pull their lives back together after lengthy incarceration. This effort is led by those most directly affected by the harsh policies standing in the way of returning citizens’ successful reintegration into communities.

The Illinois Murder and Violence Against Youth Registration Act requires certain offenders to register their names, addresses, and recent photos into a public database. The state requires formerly incarcerated individuals to register by virtue of their conviction record, among other criteria. Returning citizens face tremendous barriers to job placement and housing upon their release, and the current registry system often serves as a form of perpetual punishment for an already vulnerable population.

Amid growing national concern over issues of surveillance, IMAN leaders catalyzed this campaign recognizing the thousands of individuals in Illinois that this policy adversely affects. Several Green ReEntry program participants and alumni are currently mandated to register, some of them for the rest of their lives. Through engaging the issue at weekly post-prayer breakfast gatherings, organizers began to build local power in the Marquette Park community by centering weekly Grassroots Power Hour gatherings on the impacts of the harsh registry system.

Organizers also traveled to Springfield to push legislators to consider several key amendments bringing fairness to the current policy: allowing registrants who’ve demonstrated exemplary conduct to petition for early removal from the system, offering fee waivers to registrants without any income, and introducing a measurement system to assess the registry’s impact on recidivism and other factors.

Want to get involved in the continued push to remove invisible bars and #FightFearBuildPower? Contact Senior Organizer Shamar Hemphill at shamar@imancentral.org, and be sure to attend Grassroots Power Hour each Wednesday at 5:30 pm.

IMAN, Citywide Alliance Demand Police Accountability

On March 22, IMAN joined fellow members of the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) for a press conference at City Hall announcing the release of their Citywide Community Conversations report. Veteran organizers from across Chicago gave testimonials stressing the urgency of this police accountability campaign, and called on city leadership to act now to support community-driven changes to police protocol.

Green ReEntry leader Mustafa Hawthorne spoke powerfully about his experience with the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois correctional system, a story which traces its roots to the era of the infamous commander Jon Burge. Along with other local organizers, the press conference shed light on the devastating harm that police misconduct can have on the individual, family and community levels.

The GAPA report encapsulates months of in-depth focus groups and “Community Conversations” hosted at various sites across Chicago. While stories of frustration and anger were common, the heart of the report amplifies residents’ calls to “fundamentally rethink the role of the police officer, reimagine the way police officers interact and engage with residents, and restructure the way the police department is governed in order to ensure that it embraces the values and priorities of the people it serves.”

IMAN’s efforts with GAPA will continue, as community voices are lifted up and city leadership is engaged in pursuit of lasting change to the status quo. Police accountability is an issue affecting many IMAN leaders, for whom GAPA serves as a promising vehicle through which to counteract the over-criminalization of Black and Brown communities. If you are interested in joining this campaign, contact Organizing Director Shamar Hemphill at shamar@imancentral.org.

Grassroots Power Hour Deepens Organizing Efforts

Recent federal policy decisions around immigration and criminal justice have had a marked impact on the daily lives of many Chicagoans, and particularly those in the Marquette Park area. Recognizing the growing importance of accessible community organizing spaces, IMAN began hosting weekly Grassroots Power Hour sessions to serve the needs of local individuals and families navigating our quickly shifting political landscape.

Grassroots Power Hour is a space for local residents and others from across Chicago to come together for education and relationship-building. Through relationships, IMAN has been able to collectively build power that has fueled our organizing work over the last 20 years. This type of grassroots work allows communities and institutions to build power together, allowing us to push for the types of policies and neighborhood transformation that our communities so desperately need. Grassroots Power Hour also creates space for healing through artistic expression and self-care, access to legal counsel, and training around organizing concepts.

As 2017 continues, Grassroots Power Hour will dig deeper into issues of criminal justice, immigration and national security, utilizing IMAN’s organizing model to equip our communities with the tools and education necessary to navigate the shifting landscape. Grassroots Power Hour is held every Wednesday at 5:30 pm at IMAN’s Youth & Arts Wellness Center. For more information, please contact Sara Hamdan at sara@imancentral.org

Atlanta ReEntry Work Making Holistic Impact

Along the way toward transforming its first construction project into what will be IMAN ATL’s new headquarters, the Atlanta Green ReEntry cohort enriched their program experience through career development workshops and weekly gatherings dedicated to spiritual nourishment.

In keeping with Green ReEntry’s core values of financial stability and empowerment, the cohort attended trainings at Tarchitects LLC, an established architecture firm in the heart of Atlanta. The brothers participated in daylong sessions focused on the ins and outs of project management, learning best practices regarding budgeting, proposal developments and collaboration strategies.

This past year’s long days of work and study were balanced with weekly gatherings geared toward spiritual growth. Following Saturday morning prayers, the Green ReEntry brothers joined fellow community members to reflect upon reminders of the importance of embodying genuine, noble character traits. Breakfast and continued conversation follow each weekend’s sitting.

On May 21, IMAN staff, Advisory Board members, and supporters from the larger Atlanta community gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of this first Green ReEntry cohort as they graduated from the program. Their hard work has laid a sturdy foundation for future participants returning home to beautify their communities and realize success in their individual lives.

Be sure to follow IMAN Atlanta on Facebook for the latest news and updates, and keep the entire Green ReEntry cohort in your prayers as they continue to change, serve and inspire!