IMAN Leader Spotlight: Aaron Felton

Youth leader Aaron Felton recently sat down with Communications Coordinator Dallas Wright to reflect on his introduction to IMAN, as well as some this year’s brightest moments. Aaron is currently serving as IMAN Arts & Culture Engagement Ally through a Public Allies fellowship, while also majoring in Computer Science at Richard J. Daley College on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Aaron, how did you first get involved with IMAN?

I got involved at IMAN in early 2015 through BuildOn, which is an org I was connected to through Gage Park High School. Several youth at my school were volunteering at IMAN’s Farmers Market, and so I decided to join that effort as a part of my BuildOn service. I started out supporting the music and artistic aspects of the market, and then I began connecting to more campaigns and more programs at IMAN as time passed.

I loved the community at IMAN when I first got there. It seemed that my networks were already interconnected with the staff and other leaders at IMAN. Everyone knew someone that I knew, through music or art or community building. People had great things to say about IMAN, and that opened me up to having a great relationship with IMAN folks.

What have been some highlights of your time as an IMAN leader?

14054088_286967781678946_1651839636074536741_nVisiting the White House this year for the Eid Dinner and seeing the President was an amazing experience. I feel truly blessed to have done that. I also traveled to Atlanta to support the first CommUNITY Café there this past April. Spending time on the road with other leaders and staff, I’ll carry memories of that for a long time. That was a special trip, because I got to enjoy a few of my favorite artists while I was volunteering and I was also able to tour the city of Atlanta. I’ll also never forget the Ta’leef Collective retreat in California that I attended this fall. In addition to learning more about my faith and bonding with others from across the country, that retreat was a really beneficial space for leadership development.

What advice do you have for young people looking to make an impact in their communities?

Don’t keep quiet about the changes you want to see in your community. A lot of young people, including myself, we complain about how things are and we complain about the elders not listening to us. I’ve learned that this isn’t really the case. Young people do have a voice, and we can assert our influence in everything that the community does. Whether it’s in schools, on the streets, whatever. We can affect how our community looks. So I would say to my fellow youth leaders, keep speaking up and stay assertive.

Katie & Ramadan

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 6.02.28 PMKatie Marciniak got her start with us during last year’s Fresh Beats & Eats Farmers’ Market. Along with other leaders and staff, she ran organic produce stands and engaged residents around healthy eating habits. As a performer, planner and ambassador for Fresh Expressions—our grassroots, youth open mic program—Katie quickly became a mainstay at IMAN.

As a student at local Gage Park High School, Katie helped with extraordinary student research exploring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Chicago Freedom Movement’s 1966 march through Marquette Park. Moved by the discovery of such a profound moment in her own neighborhood, Katie has embraced a key role on the MLK Living Memorial Planning Committee, serving alongside high-level executives and public figures from across the Chicagoland area. In recognition of her achievements, Katie was on of two IMAN youth leaders publicly awarded by the Office of Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 6.21.34 PMThis summer, Katie’s journey has taken even more exciting turns. She is currently enjoying the sweetness of her first Ramadan, and will soon take her talents to the prestigious Princeton University Summer Journalism Program.

With the help of your prayers and contributions, IMAN continues to be able to offer brilliant youth leaders like Katie an outlet to express their creativity, organize their communities, and continue to flourish in a truly holistic way. As this blessed month continues, we ask that you make your zakat-eligible, tax-deductible donation to our 2016 Ramadan Drive and help us reach our ambitious $500,000 goal. May the Most High continue to make us worthy of your support, and may your month be full of blessings and mercy.

CommUNITY Café Kicks Off IMAN Atlanta Debut

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 4.22.47 PMAfter months of preparation and planning, IMAN Atlanta hosted CommUNITY Café: 1000 Mile Journey on April 23, its debut event. A caravan of staff and leaders from Chicago hit the road and took to the skies to support this landmark effort, which was led by ATL Regional Organizer Mansoor Sabree and Ny’imah Byrd. Café guests were treated to a stellar lineup of local, national and international artists; rapper-producer Oddisee headlined the event, Omar Offendum delivered stirring and focused lyrics, independent songstress Drea D’Nur softened hearts with her powerful voice, while Quadir Lateef’s high-octane set provided the perfect opening. CommUNITY Café: 1000 Mile Journey was hosted by poet-authors Basheer Jones and Tasleem Jamila.

While certainly a success in and of itself, CommUNITY Café: 1000 Mile Journey was part of a larger weekend program spearheaded by the IMAN Atlanta team. Greening Youth, a Georgia-based sustainability foundation, hosted an inspiring Young Leaders Forum at their four-acre location on the city’s West Side. Youth from Chicago were able to tour the expansive garden site, Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 4.22.16 PMwhich included a chicken coop and aquaponics system, and exchange valuable tips with peers. Omar Offendum, Drea D’Nur and Quadir Lateef joined the IMAN youth for the tour.

Before heading back to Chicago, staff and leaders visited the historic King Center in downtown Atlanta. The group reflected on the legacy of King’s work and connected the IMAN-led MLK Living Memorial Project to this nationally recognized space of remembrance.

IMAN Atlanta now looks to build on the incredible momentum following April’s CommUNITY Café. Stay tuned for the latest news and updates by following IMAN Atlanta on Facebook.

IMAN Leader Spotlight: Harun McGraw

Longtime leader Harun McGraw recently sat down with Communications Coordinator Dallas Wright to reflect on his tenure at IMAN, his long-term aspirations, and how his experience as an organizer has led to growth in various aspects of his life.

Harun, how did you first get involved with IMAN?

HM: I began working with IMAN in 2008. After the Friday prayer at a local mosque, I ran into Rami Nashashibi and Shamar Hemphill. After introductions, they shared with me IMAN’s mission, vision and the programs they offered at the time. They said they were headed downtown to a rally, and they invited me to tag along. So, I went with them…I had just met these guys [laughs], I was so open-minded.

MarchAfter the rally, we all went to grab lunch and then they told me even more about IMAN. I was really struck by how active and engaged Rami and Shamar were. So many times, I’d walked past neighborhood organizations and it looks like nothing is going on inside. But this felt different. The very first impression I got from IMAN was one of action.

What have been some highlights of your time as an IMAN leader?

HM: Something that I’ll always remember is the Pillars of IMAN program. This was back in the summer of 2009, and we had a group of young guys that grew really close to each other. That was my first experience at IMAN doing serious relationship building. What was most impactful was being able to be my authentic self around the other guys in the program. Out in the neighborhood, you feel a big pressure to front and act tough. To be able to genuinely open up with brothers like Gemali Ibrahim and LaRon Hood was powerful for me, and those guys are my good friends to this day.

HarunI also really enjoyed working on the backyard garden at the Green ReEntry house at 6210 S. Fairfield. The high point of that experience was taking the green tomatoes that we [the youth interns] had harvested to the Fresh Beats & Eats Farmers’ Market to sell them. It was like we’d proven ourselves, because we produced something tangible without much oversight from our elders. That summer was also special because we got paid to do the work. Spiritual and networking benefits are definitely important, but so is putting money in our pocket. So many young people in the community don’t get many opportunities to do that in a dignified way, but we were fortunate to enjoy that success.

What sort of skills have you sharpened during your years with IMAN?

HM: A couple of things really stand out. Firstly, I know how to grow food now. That includes the physical planting of the seeds, but also the budgeting and other planning things that go into a productive garden. I was able to implement statistical knowledge I gained in school and apply it in a really interactive way.

I’ve become a much better public speaker too. Shamar has sent me to places like the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, to conferences, and to other places to present IMAN’s work. Through experiences like those, I really found a voice.

What advice do you have for young people looking to make an impact in their communities

HM: First of all, come to IMAN [laughs]. Then, ask yourself why you want to get involved. Actions are according to intentions, so, if you don’t know what is motivating you to do the work, you will burn yourself out. Look for something bigger than yourself to get grounded in, and that will help you flourish. Dream about what your community could be in 30-40 years, because the way it is now doesn’t have to be the way that will end up. Then, it’s time to get to work.

Congratulations on graduating from DePaul! What are your long-term plans?

HM: Well my Bachelor’s Degree is in Sociology, so my goal is to earn a PhD and focus my research on more effective gang prevention efforts. I would want my research to be used at the grassroots level though, so I want to collaborate with local organizations to develop programs around that research.