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.

IMAN Organizers Train Multigenerational LA Cohort

For the second time, IMAN organizers traveled to California to train Bayan Claremont students and leaders from Islah LA on the essentials of effective, transformative grassroots community organizing. An engaged group of over 40 leaders participated in the weekend-long training, which was hosted in South Central Los Angeles at Islah LA headquarters.

The training touched on all the hallmarks of IMAN’s organizing methodology, from the importance of understanding self-interest to the need for optimistic patience when working towards “the world as it should be.” As the nation transitioned into a new political moment, the group was able to process real-world issues during the training session and begin developing the types of genuine, relationship-based alliances that are necessary to withstand challenging times. The theme of the weekend aligned organically with IMAN’s larger #FightFearBuildPower campaign.

IMAN’s organizing work has long served as a model for grassroots organizers around the country to establish strong coalitions across boundaries of race, socioeconomic status and religion. Organizing trainings are also scheduled to take place in Chicago and Atlanta over the next few months. For those interested in participating in an IMAN training, please contact Organizing Director Shamar Hemphill for more information.

IMAN ATL Breaks Ground, Leads Interfaith Efforts

IMAN Atlanta has been extremely active as it continues to carve out its place in the larger metro area. The Atlanta Green ReEntry cohort broke ground on its first renovation project along with dozens of local volunteers. In addition to launching the reentry work, IMAN ATL staff and leaders played key roles in several interfaith efforts that successfully highlighted the importance of health, wellness and healing in an inner-city context.

IMAN Atlanta played a key organizing role during a well-attended rally held in downtown Atlanta. Alongside allies from Redeemer Lutheran Church and other organizations, they called on residents to band together in support of groups targeted by proposed federal policies.

In conjunction with the Interfaith Children’s Movement, IMAN Atlanta staff and leaders also traveled to the state capitol for an important Advocacy Day. They pushed local legislators on several critical issues affecting the state’s youth, from increased job opportunities to more equitable, accessible public services for young people of all backgrounds.

On February 25, Director Mansoor Sabree and Atlanta Green ReEntry Coordinator Jermaine Shareef organized a “Hands On” community event, which served as a public groundbreaking for the IMAN ATL team’s first renovation project. Nearly 50 community members joined the first-ever Atlanta re-entry crew for a tour of the new property. After the tour, many attendees also rolled up their sleeves and chipped in to help beautify IMAN ATL’s soon-to-be headquarters.

IMAN Atlanta continues to establish itself as a vehicle for Georgia residents to engage the issues most directly affecting them. Be sure to follow IMAN ATL on Facebook to support their work, and for all the latest news and updates.

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.