They Murdered My Father, His Dreams Live On

Six months ago, I received the worst call of my life informing me that my father had been shot and killed in his car.

I hadn’t even made it to the hospital before I heard word on the street and on social media about who was going to be killed in retaliation for my father’s death. His funeral was filled with police officers. A police helicopter even followed us all the way to the gravesite and hovered over us as we put my father’s body into the ground.

Yes, my father was a known leader of a street organization, but he was also a man who wanted the best for his family. He beamed with pride when I told him I had been accepted into IMAN’s Green ReEntry program, which would teach me a trade, help me develop life skills and give me the chance to rebuild vacant and vandalized homes. After my father was murdered, I knew that if I didn’t leave Chicago, I would get sucked into the cycle of violence that he had wanted me to avoid.

My Green ReEntry case worker advocated for me to get out of Chicago, and I spent two weeks in an exchange program with the second cohort of Green ReEntry participants at IMAN Atlanta. The Atlanta team greeted me with the love I needed at that time. They housed, fed, and engaged me from the moment I got off the plane.

I felt so grateful, but also a little guilty. I knew how many more people like me needed the same love and opportunity I had received. A close friend of mine had also fled from Chicago to Atlanta after violent circumstances put his life at risk. He was frustrated by the lack of opportunities for growth and development, so I asked the IMAN Atlanta team if he could join the Green ReEntry program. My friend not only graduated from the program two months ago, but was offered a job connected to the program due to his high performance.

I am not Muslim and knew nothing about Muslims growing up, but I’ve taken the opportunity to fast several days alongside my brothers and sisters at IMAN this Ramadan. Two days ago, I broke my fast in Atlanta with Dr. Sherman Jackson and a beautiful group of people who came out to support IMAN’s ‘Off The List, On The Love’ Ramadan Drive. I was blown away by the fact that IMAN is not only do amazing things with health, re-entry, organizing and the arts in Chicago, but now also has a full model with amazing people growing in Atlanta.

My experience with IMAN has changed the entire course of my life and, as I prepare for my own Green ReEntry graduation this November, I hope to take the skills I’ve learned to the next level and earn an electrical engineering degree. However, I am still very worried about my younger siblings as we approach the hot, violent summer months. My 19-year-old brother is one of the 187 people on the Green ReEntry waiting list desperately trying to get into the program. I believe that this may be one of the only real chances my brother has to start on the path towards success that my father dreamed of for his children.

I am calling on all of you to help us reach and exceed our ‘Off The List, On The Love’ Ramadan Drive goal. Your tax-deductible and zakat-eligible donations are critical, so more people like my brother can get off the list and on the path where the love, blessings and beauty of our community will provide him with everything he needs to succeed.

Much Love,

Green ReEntry Cohort Joins #MarchForOurLives

An inter-generational group of nearly 40 Green ReEntry cohort members, staff and leaders traveled to Washington D.C. this March for a weekend of reflection, solidarity and learning. The trip gave many brothers their first opportunity to serve as ambassadors for Green ReEntry–and IMAN–outside of Chicago.

This visit to our nation’s Capitol was highlighted by the group’s participation in the massive March for Our Lives event held in downtown Washington. Alongside 700,000 people from across the U.S., the Green ReEntry brothers demanded an end to the gun violence plaguing communities throughout the country. Many cohort members have lost loved ones to a bullet, and the group marched throughout the day carrying the memory of former cohort member Steven Ward, who was shot dead last December.

The Green ReEntry cohort was then hosted in Baltimore by longtime IMAN ally Saafir Rabb, who led the group on a tour around his hometown. Rabb has helped lead many successful property development projects in Baltimore, and he readily shared wisdom and laughs with his eager guests. During an in-depth exploration of a current embassy renovation, Rabb connected young cohort members with several older colleagues working in carpentry, masonry and heating/ventilation fields.

As the trip ended, Green ReEntry case workers arranged for a tour of the historic Howard University. Both high school completion and educational achievement are interwoven into cohort members’ goals, and immersing themselves in the college campus environment provided many opportunities for networking. After visiting the pioneering community at D.C.’s Masjid Muhammad, the cohort loaded the bus and returned to Chicago with rejuvenated spirits and a deepened sense of unity.

Youth Leader Katie Marciniak Joins the Board

IMAN’s Board of Directors voted in its newest member, Katie Marciniak, during the January meeting. Katie, a local community member and recent graduate of Gage Park High School, is no stranger to IMAN and has emerged as a dynamic youth leader and organizer during her several years with the organization. Currently, she serves at IMAN as an Outreach and Wellness Coordinator through the Public Allies program, working with three South Side high schools to engage students around food access and its systematic connections to other issues impacting marginalized communities. Katie recently shared how her relationship with IMAN has fostered her personal growth and helped to define her purpose.

Q: How did you become involved with IMAN?

A: I originally became involved through the farmers market, through an organization that partnered with my high school. At that time Shamar introduced himself as a youth director at IMAN and I then started to engage more. I continued to look for opportunities to further my community work because I knew I was passionate about being deeply involved in my community, but I didn’t really know what opportunities to explore. I believe it was back in 2015 when I first became involved with the youth council, where we had discussions about community issues and how they impacted us. After the youth council, I stayed regularly engaged at IMAN, and then my next opportunity was being part of the MLK Memorial. I was essentially a student representative on the planning committee, and that gave me an opportunity to further the efforts of the people who previously worked to create a project to commemorate King and to continue the efforts of the students from my high school who were there before me. This was my first real opportunity to become deeply involved in a project with IMAN, which gave me the chance to really see a vision come to life.

Q: Did you ever aspire to become a board member at IMAN?

A: Well when the opportunity was presented to me, I thought it was really beneficial as soon as I heard about it. I was interested in bringing my perspective to the board and to be able to enhance the organization as a whole…internally, considering I do have a position currently in the organization, and externally as well to ensure that the services that are being offered meet the community’s needs considering I am from the area and still residing in the community.

Q: What does your new role as an IMAN board member mean to you?

A: It means being able to contribute and being a new voice for the betterment of the organization and the community, especially for the youth. To be that model and to have a direct say in things that go on in our community, and to show that they have the capability to be in a position where their voices can be heard and impact decision making processes on behalf of their community.

Q: How has being involved in the work at IMAN shaped your life?

A: Wow, how hasn’t it shaped my life?! I feel like IMAN has really given me opportunities to better understand myself and the community, mentally and spiritually. And over time I feel like I’ve been constantly progressing through those opportunities especially through leadership as I’ve gained more leadership within the organization. And just being able to use the skills and knowledge that I’ve acquired here, beyond the organization and beyond my community… or just really being able to use my skills in any space. I definitely feel from this point on I will go on to continue to create an impact, large and small, due to everything I’ve learned and gained through my experiences and the people I’ve met.

Q: What is your advice to other young people about getting involved?

A: You don’t have to have a deep educational background or experience to get involved in your community. I believe all young people have a voice, it’s just a matter of exploring those different opportunities, specifically community related opportunities that help you find your voice and find your passion. Don’t be afraid to expose yourself to different people in your community and put yourself in those spaces that help you better understand community issues as a whole and are interconnected. Utilize the knowledge that you have received and take steps to then find your purpose.

Green ReEntry Expands Outreach with New Staff

After years of helping returning citizens successfully reacclimate to their communities, the Green ReEntry program is poised to significantly deepen its impact. In partnership with the Emerson Collective, Green ReEntry has expanded the size of its cohorts from a handful of brothers to a dynamic, intergenerational group of over 30 men.

To facilitate the continued success of Green ReEntry participants, IMAN has hired three highly skilled full-time staff: Case Manager Billy Moore, and Case Workers Ali Kanoya and Gemali Ibrahim. We sat down with the new team to learn more about their stories and their vision for Green ReEntry’s future growth.

What does the Green ReEntry program have to offer?

Billy: We’re working with men who are really facing significant challenges to their wellbeing, so it’s imperative that our work has a positive impact. Our goal is to shift the way that these guys think about themselves and their communities, and we’ve developed a curriculum to achieve that by instilling values of brotherhood, professionalism and conflict resolution.

Ali: Life skills training is another key component. We speak a language the participants understand, and we grew up in similar communities to theirs. Our job is to be a guide and mentor to young brothers who haven’t had that luxury thus far in their lives.

What inspires you to get involved in this work? It’s far from easy.

Gemali: I feel the most spiritually attuned in those moments when I’m recognizing the interconnectedness of the human family. One of the ways God has shown me that He is real has been through brotherhood. Helping my fellow community members is a practice that’s been a part of my life since childhood. It’s in my DNA at this point, and I consider IMAN and the surrounding area to be my community.

Billy: Returning citizens looking to get back on track, avoid re-offending, and contribute positively to their communities must do so with extremely limited resources. This opportunity to serve others is a blessing, because I know all too well what it feels like to sit on the other side of the desk and need help successfully reintegrating into society. IMAN has been in the trenches for years now doing the work, directing significant resources to those who need them in a way that’s relevant and compassionate.

Ali: I will never forget a realization that I had during my final days of incarceration. I remember seeing intelligent, strong-willed, physically fit, and brave brothers all around me. It hurt to see the beauty of our community locked up like that. I wanted to see that beauty flourish back at home, doing something positive in the streets. I still want that, and Green ReEntry is the best outlet I’ve seen to accomplish that goal.

At this current moment in Chicago, why is the Green ReEntry program so necessary?

Ali: Chicago has been associated with gangs and violence for generations, but what can’t be forgotten is the fact that those traditions also included real valor and codes of ethics that people lived by. That legacy has worn away, and we see the youth in chaos on many levels as a result. All of these young guys aren’t monsters. That’s an artificial message that’s being promoted in the culture, but that’s not who these guys really are at their core. We need to reach back and encourage young men to develop a sense of accountability, perseverance and dignity. God willing, we can shift that culture.

Gemali: I remember meeting a brother at Ramadan Reflections. He said he refused to bring his children because he wasn’t sure about “what kind of neighborhood IMAN is in.” He lives maybe 30 minutes from the office. That affected me, because of how much I love this city and the relationships that I’ve built here. But, if you turn on the TV, you understand how he can feel that fear. I am inspired by the example of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as he first entered the city of Medina. He instructed the people to spread peace, feed the hungry, and spend time at night in prayer. We need to reflect more deeply on the fact that he said “spread peace” first.

Billy: Chicago is a world-class city, there’s no denying that. But, what is becoming clearer even in mainstream media is that the story of Chicago, in reality, is a tale of two cities. The wellbeing of our part of the city isn’t prioritized. You hear about the violence and the homicides, the 40% unemployment among young men in Englewood, the 54 closed schools, and the underrepresentation of Black-owned businesses. Legislators and other officials play a role, but programs like Green ReEntry are what really empower individuals and families to take control over their lives in a meaningful way.