30 Black Men In the Middle of the Room

This Ramadan really started for me when I walked into a room packed full of black men of all ages taking turns unabashedly expressing their love and appreciation for one another. It was a powerful Latina Muslim artist and longtime IMAN leader, Liza Garza, leading them in the circle.

One year ago, most of these men didn’t know one another and several of them were rival gang members who had once shot at each other on the streets. And yet, less than a year later, the experience they have undergone as participants of the Green ReEntry program has turned these once-rivals into brothers.

For so many of us, this month of Ramadan has been about striving for and struggling to realize our unfulfilled potential, even amid structural barriers that try to deny us that vision of ourselves. Every dollar we are raising is part of a well-planned and calculated budget to help this organization grow its programming, deepen its campaigns, and expand its reach to better ensure the immediate and long-term realization of such a vision. We have come so far towards our larger goal and are grateful for each and every dollar that has come in this month. In the next few hours we will try our very best to close the remaining gap, and in the days and weeks to come, we are hopeful that we will be able to do so with your ongoing support and prayers.

Yesterday, as IMAN staff and leaders were preparing for what would be a beautiful community iftar last night, a neighbor on the block stopped Rami and me as we were walking past her house. She wanted us to know how much she loved and appreciated the young men in our program, who not only always treated her and her children with respect and kindness, but were also attentive stewards of the block. I am still thinking about her words and replaying the image of 30 black men standing in the middle of a room telling each other, “I love you, man”. There is so much more work to do but no matter how many lists my people and my community find themselves on, I know that it is that fierce, formidable, unrelenting love that has the power to transform any heart and any block.

Thank you for your love, this month and always.

Eid Mubarak,
Alia J. Bilal
Director of Community Relations

Handcuffed and Hauled Away

Last week, my husband Bilaal Evans was handcuffed and hauled away to a police station for hours. I was in the passenger seat praying that this wouldn’t turn into another horrific incidence of violence like those we have become all too accustomed to watching on our social media feeds.

For months, Bilaal has been carrying physical proof that he is no longer required to register for Illinois’ Violent Offender Against Youth registry. This mandate was for a crime he committed as a young person himself over two decades ago, and Bilaal has already completed his lengthy prison sentence and parole term. The officer didn’t even give him a chance to pull it out though.

If you’ve been around IMAN for the past decade, you know my husband and you’ve met my family. Bilaal is IMAN’s Green ReEntry Coordinator and has been working there for the last eight years. He has dedicated his life to the work of transforming people and communities. My daughters and son have all grown up around IMAN, participating in organizing campaigns, helping guide the youth council and even serving on IMAN’s board of directors. My family has been on the front lines striving to improve our communities.

And yet, with just one cop and a faulty piece of legislation, none of that mattered. The Violent Offender Against Youth Registry Act has haunted my husband’s life since he was released from prison years ago, and there are hundreds of other people in Illinois facing the same situation. It is exactly these types of humiliating, dehumanizing, and demoralizing encounters that IMAN is working to eliminate.

Thankfully, two weeks ago, IMAN successfully passed the “Path to Restoration” bill, which will enable people stuck on this unfair registry to amend inaccurate information about themselves, and to petition for their eventual removal from the list. This is a huge achievement that my husband and his colleagues at IMAN spent months organizing at the grassroots level to push through.

But it’s still only a drop in the sea of policies that continue to criminalize black and brown people.

The cop eventually let us go—once he actually bothered to find out that Bilaal was no longer on the registry. But lists like these continue to disrupt the progress of many men and women who are simply trying to get their lives back on track and do something positive for their families. And that’s why I’m urging you to contribute to IMAN’s ‘Off the List, On the Love’ Ramadan Drive.

God willing, one day there will be one less list we have to worry about.

Thank you,
Khadijah Ali-Evans

Sitting and Suffering

Last year, there was a woman in our community who’d spent months on our waiting list for behavioral health services. When we were finally able to bring her in, our staff discovered that she had been considering hurting her family members. Thankfully, we were able to treat her before any harm came to her or her family.

Cases like this highlight the critical need to get community members struggling with mental and emotional health issues off of these waiting lists. Myriad studies have shown that, like other resources, mental health services continue to be significantly inaccessible to low-income families. IMAN’s current behavioral health waitlist is four months for English speakers, and six months for Spanish speakers. This is far too long to wait for someone who is sitting and suffering through pain and trauma.

My team of specialists and I give our all in support of each patient who walks through our doors. We assist individuals and families in processing and healing from years of untreated trauma and devastating pain. We celebrate their tremendous progress when they leave us after receiving care.

But there are still far too many people on that list.

Your support means increased access to health services for those who would otherwise continue to sit and suffer alone. Please help us reach and exceed our ‘Off the List, On the Love’ Ramadan Drive goal. Your tax-deductible, zakat-eligible donations are crucial acts of love and solidarity as we push toward a world where waiting lists like this don’t have to exist.

Salaam,
Natali Rehman
IMAN Behavioral Health Manager

I Know What It’s Like

I’m Katie Marciniak, IMAN’s youngest board member, and I have been deeply and personally impacted by this year’s critical ‘Off the List, On the Love’ Ramadan Drive.

I know firsthand what it’s like to be on a list associated with failure and frustration, a list meaning that folks have given up on you. I graduated from Gage Park High School in Chicago, a school constantly under threat of being shut down because we were “under-enrolled” or “underperforming”.

The Southwest Side is my home, where I was born and raised. Alongside my high school classmates, I was blessed to engage in impactful activism that led me to discover IMAN. As an IMAN organizer, I have helped to mobilize community members to build the city’s first permanent memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Chicago Freedom Movement; increase local access to fresh foods via our Corner Store Campaign; and I’ve worked at the board level to continue building IMAN as an organization proactively responding to the intense needs of the community.

Unfortunately, those needs and challenges too often result in our people being on all the wrong lists. There are nearly 200 men on the waiting list to get into our Green ReEntry program right now, dozens of people waiting up to six months to receive behavioral health services, and hundreds of returning citizens who are currently waiting to be removed from an unfair registry list.

Saturday, May 19th would have been Malcolm X’s 93rd birthday and while our staff in Atlanta and Chicago gathered to reflect on his legacy and its connection to our work on that day, I represented IMAN in Washington D.C. at a national convening of organizers engaging the most pressing social justice issues of our time. I was incredibly moved by the transformational love that drives these organizers to continue courageously uplifting their communities, and felt proud to be doing that work at IMAN.

Your support helps to power our continued efforts to remove barriers to health, wellness and healing. As we all seek the blessings of Ramadan, please consider making a tax-deductible, zakat-eligible donation to our Ramadan Fundraising Drive.

Salaam,
Katie