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.

New Generation of Leaders Emerging at Local High School

Youth-centered leadership development has long been a pillar of IMAN’s organizing work, and in our surrounding community, young men of color face particular challenges as they navigate the schools and other institutions. Recognizing the need for an accessible, constructive outlet, Organizing Director Shamar Hemphill, along with leadership from community partner Catalyst Maria Charter School, established the Young Men’s Leadership Group in 2015. The initiative has continued to flourish, helping cultivate the next generation of change makers on the Southwest Side.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.11.34 AMThe central goal of the group is to encourage the young men—who are current Catalyst Maria students—to understand themselves as leaders, both in school and among their peers in the larger community. During their regular after-school meetings, Hemphill leads the group through activities that push them to consider what student leadership looks like and how those skills translate into a positive impact elsewhere. An ethos of accountability runs through all of the group’s work together, as each of the young men are tasked with helping one another remain on an upward academic trajectory.

IMAN strives to serve as a vehicle for community members of all ages to effect positive change. The Young Men’s Leadership Group continues that effort as it helps to connect shared histories and build power for future leaders.

Citywide Forum Preps Muslim Run Campaign for Big 2016

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 10.29.44 AMDespite heavy rain and dropping temperatures, an engaged group of over 100 stakeholders—from students to urban farmers—gathered on the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus for IMAN’s annual Food For Life Forum. The event was a major step forward for IMAN’s collaboration with two UIC entities: the Department of Kinesiology & Nutrition and the Chicago Partnership for Health Promotion.

Forum participants hailed from every side of the city, and examined food systems-related initiatives across Chicago and shared best practices. While IMAN has deepened its impact in this area through the Muslim Run Corner Store Campaign after years of organizing and advocacy, an increasingly holistic strategy must be developed as we work for a sustainable intervention model: everything from food procurement to land acquisition to community engagement.

This Forum’s highlights included an overview of the current landscape of corner store interventions presented by Dr. Angela Odoms-Young of UIC and Dr. Rami Nashashibi of IMAN. Three breakout sessions followed, each focused on a critical aspect of sustainable food work: developing effective farm-to-table models, promoting nutrition education, and mobilizing communities toward food justice. Longtime IMAN partners from Centers for New Horizons and UIC helped lead these sessions.

Building on the progress made at the latest Food For Life Forum, IMAN will continue to work with its allies to strengthen corner store and food-systems efforts across the city. In early December, a follow-up table discussion will deepen this conversation and refine strategies for 2016. To get involved in the Muslim Run Corner Store Campaign, please contact Manager & Lead Organizer Sara Hamdan (


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.