Developing Leaders: IMAN’s Community Organizing Training

The weekend of May 21-22 was a long but productive one for leaders at IMAN. Just two days after celebrating the probable takeover of an abandoned home plaguing the block next to IMAN’s office, nearly 30 staff and leaders gathered for the first IMAN Community Organizing Training of 2011. The training brought out leaders from different Chicago communities, as well as a diversity of professions, backgrounds, and experiences. IMAN’s training is a unique blend of the traditional organizing methods pioneered in Chicago and the Prophetic principles of compassion, service, and justice. This first training was specifically aimed at equipping community members with the proper tools to move IMAN’s Muslim Run campaign forward.

The one and a half day training was hosted in Hyde Park at the Catholic Theological Union, for whose continued support we are very grateful. Attendees entered the building greeted by beautiful Arabic calligraphy engraved on its ceiling. The setting itself emphasized IMAN’s commitment to inclusiveness and spoke to relationships built throughout the years with faith-based institutions in and around Chicago. The training began with help from Don Washington, a speaker, instructor and former Community Organizer at the Community Renewal Society. He led participants in an exercise called the Melian Debate in which he used a historic encounter between the Athenians and Melians of ancient Greece to move participants. It opened their eyes to the importance of each one of them helping themselves and others bring about positive change in their communities and environments. If not, the Debate stressed, they would forever be silenced, as was the fate of the Melians in the face of a much stronger Athenian army.

The first tool of organizing that leaders were introduced to was the sharing of histories and lived experiences. Facilitators broke attendees into smaller groups for more thorough and intimate discussions. With this, facilitators and participants were able to learn about each other’s experiences of injustice and oppression, and how they related to our global history. With a timeline of historical instances of injustices and oppressions that was provided, the participants placed their experiences under the year it happened – showing how even things on a global scale affect each of us on a very personal level.

Each session introduced a new tool the participants would need to equip themselves with as leaders. Each tool allowed them to self-reflect as well as understand the self-interest of their peers in order to foster communal relationships that can develop into vehicles for social change. While IMAN’s Community Organizing Training serves the general purpose of developing leaders and preparing individuals to spur their communities to action, it’s also a reminder of IMAN’s core principles and an example of grounding community organizing in a Prophetic model. Leadership by those most affected is heavily stressed, as well as socioeconomic and generational diversity, alliance-building, service and art. If you were unable to attend, we encourage you to look out for our second training of 2011 in the fall.

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