Fresh Expressions Ends 2015 on High Notes

Rhythmic poetry and inspired lyrics emanated from IMAN’s Youth & Arts Wellness Center as the return year of Fresh Expressions, a grassroots, creative safe space, came to a close. After dining on healthy snacks and veggie pizza, talented young artists from every side of Chicago meshed social awareness with oratory flair during the open mic session. Performers hailed from Gage Park High School, the Kuumba Lynx collective, and even IMAN’s core group of leaders.

Fresh Ex 0ct29IMAN Arts Council member Amirah Sackett then took the stage with her unique blend of artistic education and expression. Sackett shared her story of self-discovery, a journey through which she has found ways to embrace both her love of Islam and hip-hop. After a “locking” dance demonstration, she spoke about her group “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic” and fielded questions from the audience.

Community engagement and active dialogue is a crucial component of Fresh Expressions, and this month’s theme was “In Your Feelings”. Guests broke off into groups to discuss Emotional Intelligence in the context of real-life situations. Multigenerational, multiethnic connections are a hallmark of the Fresh Expressions experience, and the passion and wisdom contributed by those in attendance served as powerful reminders of the necessity of this space.FreshEx Oct 29

As the year draws to a close, we look forward to the continued growth and solidification of the Fresh Expressions model. Few other places in the city of Chicago offer such a vibrant, youth-led environment for community members of all ages to express themselves and learn from one another. Thank you to all the leaders and volunteers who helped to make this year a success.

Digital Media Masters Complete Summer Term

In the words of the great African novelist Chinua Achebe, “It is the storyteller who makes us what we are, who creates history. The storyteller creates the memory that the survivors must have–otherwise their surviving would have no meaning.”

An unfortunate reality of life in 2015 is that mainstream media companies have a monopoly on storytelling, crippling communities’ ability to form their own narratives and spreading harmful stereotypes. This damage is felt in the community where IMAN operates, where young black and brown men are often assumed to be lifelong criminals. Muslims across the country are profiled and harassed in similar ways.

DMM Summer 15 GradIMAN works to empower local high schoolers through Digital Media Masters (DMM), a 6-week summer intensive where students become agents of change by projecting their own authentic narratives with the long-term goal of using mass media to transform their communities. Through funding from After School Matters, IMAN was not only able pay the teens for their reporting, but also hire a brilliant instructor, Tariq Weaver, to facilitate thought-provoking conversations with these amazing young minds.

One of the most transformative aspects of DMM was the chance for the students to engage with both IMAN’s proven organizing model, and the diverse constituent base of various ethnicities and faith traditions. DMM students participated in programs such as Refresh the ‘Hood, Ramadan Reflections and Fresh Beats & Eats Farmers’ Market.

Valued IMAN allies also stepped in to share wisdom and reporting tips. Enoch Muhammad of Hip Hop Detoxx held a Q&A session, and longtime IMAN supporters Ayesha Kazi and Dr. Emad Rahim gave advice on academic and professional success. At the end of the DMM program, students shared their final projects—ranging from photo essays to video interviews—with parents and IMAN staff. Thanks to all those who played a part in making this summer special, and stay on the lookout for articles from the DMM graduates!

IMAN Board Member Wins Sargent Shriver Award

Aminah Ali, an IMAN Board Member and longtime youth leader, was recently awarded the Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Leadership Award by the Marguerite Casey Foundation. Just back from the presentation banquet in Seattle, Aminah sat down to reflect on the honor and her development as a key part of IMAN.

So, how was your experience at the awards ceremony?

AA: I’d say it was both inspiring and humbling. I enjoyed meeting the Marguerite Casey board members and hearing their stories and about their philanthropy. It was amazing to learn that some of them had grown up poor, but after becoming financially successful they were able to give back in such amazing ways.

What was it like meeting the other award winners?

AA: We all stayed in the same hotel, ate together, stuff like that. It was inspiring to see my peers who put in such amazing work and are now getting recognized for it. The work that I was honored for – food justice – was unique among all the other awardees, so that made it even more special. Learning about the challenges that my peers have overcome to get to this point was extremely humbling. A lot of them come from much more difficult circumstances than I do, struggles with immigration policy and other things. It just gave me some perspective.

How did you first get involved with IMAN?IMG951710

AA: Well I was about 13 or 14 years old. My stepdad handled the security there and then Shamar, the Organizing Director, also got me involved. I started out just helping with a couple programs, but I soon realized that I wanted a long-term connection to IMAN.

Have you benefitted from your time at IMAN?

AA: Absolutely. My mentors at IMAN helped me to come out of my shell, to better understand the world around me and take a leadership role in it. The biggest change I’ve seen in myself is my comfort with public speaking. When I was younger, I’d never talk in front of people. I wouldn’t even raise my hand in school. Now I feel more comfortable voicing my opinion. IMAN also opened my eyes to different ethnic communities in the city: Arabs, Latinos, Asians and other peoples. Experiencing this diversity changed how I deal with other people. I was already pretty accepting, but working with IMAN helped me become even more open-minded.

What can we expect next from Aminah Ali?

AA: In the next couple of years, I want to work as a dental assistant and earn an Associate’s degree in Science. Then, I’ll transfer to a university and get a Bachelor’s degree. Eventually, I want to become a dentist. I plan to continue serving on the IMAN Board of Directors, and to stay connected to the organization through internships and my relationships with staff.

What would you tell other young people who are interested in community work?

AA: I’d tell youth to not be selfish, because we do that as teens sometimes. Realize the bigger picture: helping community and family allows you to realize the purpose in your own life. Plus it will benefit those who come after you.

“Hood Disease” and Healing This Ramadan

Last year, a San Francisco news station reported on a CDC study chronicling the disproportionate levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD—usually associated with war veterans) among mostly black and brown youth living in the inner-city. In the segment, the reporter quoted someone who called the condition “Hood Disease,” and the offensive term went viral.Hood Disease

If there were a disease connected to this social reality, it should have been one calling out years of our collective silence and indifference. This inaction amounts to our complicity in the structural and systemic factors that have led to epidemic levels of violence in neighborhoods around the country, like the one IMAN works in. Failing schools, lack of meaningful employment, an eviscerated safety net and a host of conditions that criminalize and further marginalize youth of color make violence all but inevitable in certain zip codes.

Ramadan is a time for us to honestly examine our spiritual and social realities, and to actually work towards a greater healing. Through its free behavioral health services, youth programs, corner store intervention work, housing rehabilitation and weekly farmers’ market, IMAN is attempting to do its part to contribute to this collective healing process.

Please pray for our work during this special month and help us to reach and exceed our 2015 Ramadan Drive Goal with your generous zakat-eligible, tax-deductible donation.  We can’t do this work without your support. May the Most High envelop us all in the spirit of Mercy and Healing this Ramadan!