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.
The 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.
Despite 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.
IMAN 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.
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.
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.
IMAN 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!