CommUNITY Café Inspires in Light of Tragedy

IMAN hosted its second CommUNITY Café of the year on March 30th at Chicago’s Harold Washington Cultural Center. Over 400 attendees enjoyed CommUNITY Café: Celebrating the Sacred Cypher, a night filled with healing, spiritual unity and diverse and unforgettable artistic expressions. CommUNITY Cafés are intentionally intersectional gatherings that bring artists, organizers and other community members together. This most recent Café took on global significance in light of the tragic events in New Zealand and Mali.

The evening began with a lively Café Hour with several local vendors and a special “beat making station” sponsored by Solidarity Studios. Guests enjoyed several performances by nationally renowned artists with deep connections to IMAN’s work. Grammy-nominated songstress (and IMAN Roster Artist) Maimouna Youssef headlined the evening with her powerful vocals and unique blend of hip-hop, R&B and tribal sounds. Zeshan B–who recently performed on Late Night with Stephen Colbert– moved the crowd with soulful ballads including “Cryin’ In the Streets” and K Love the Poet rounded out the evening with inspiring spoken word performances rooted in healing. Grandmother Walks on Water–Maimouna Youssef’s mother–wove traditional indigenous vocals into her chilling performance, and the audience was asked to reflect on the equally disheartened violence happening on local streets.

During the evening, IMAN formally announced the Sevyn Ward Trust, a special fund intended to support a strong future for the daughter of slain Green ReEntry cohort member Steven Ward. Chicago’s Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot also took the stage Saturday evening in a gesture of spiritual solidarity, making a commitment to help fight the destructive forces that pit communities against one another, and to allowing us to hold her and her office accountable to working with us to form equitable solutions to some of Chicago’s toughest social justice challenges.

This incredible event would not have been possible without the generous support of our partners at: The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Pillars Fund, and Lyft who provided complimentary rides to and from the venue. We were honored to have such a beautiful crowd in place as we both mourned and uplifted the lives of those lost in New Zealand, Chicago, and around the world in senseless violence.

Stay connected to IMAN’s Arts & Culture work by following #IMANArts on Twitter and Instagram. To get involved, please contact arts@imancentral.org.

ATL Advocacy at the State Capitol

For the third consecutive year, IMAN mobilized dozens of organizers and leaders at the Georgia State Capitol for Justice Day. Throughout the day, IMAN leaders and Green ReEntry cohort members shared their firsthand experiences navigating the criminal justice system. Their narratives—and those of their mothers, children and other family members—highlighting incarceration’s layered impacts spurred deep interest from local legislators.

We also joined our partners at New Georgia Project, which works to increase voter turnout and protect voting rights, and RestoreHER—an organization fighting to protect the dignity of incarcerated women and support their transitions back home—at the Capitol to strengthen a collective platform advocating for our united interests. RestoreHER founder Pamela Winn shared her harrowing experience being shackled while pregnant to illustrate the constant violence faced by incarcerated women. Ms. Winn’s powerful testimony inspired bipartisan support, and IMAN Atlanta organizers joined her advocacy for House Bill 345. The bill recently passed through the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives, and will prohibit the shackling of pregnant imprisoned women once it is signed into law.

Just days after the horrendous attacks on the Muslim community in New Zealand, IMAN Atlanta returned to the Capitol for Muslim Advocacy Day to continue advocating for communities negatively impacted by inequitable legislation. Staff, leaders and Green ReEntry participants stood alongside community partners from Georgia Justice Project, CAIR Georgia, and Muslim Women’s Professional Network. Organizing Fellow Amirah Kahera spoke on the importance of maintaining unity in spite of adversity, and invited Muslim Advocacy Day participants to engage more deeply with IMAN’s larger #FightFearBuildPower efforts.

IMAN Atlanta also recently hosted its annual Community Organizing Training, which introduced a diverse group of emerging leaders to our organizing principles and strategies. During this intensive two-day training, attendees reflected on the vital connections between intergenerational and interfaith leadership, and learned core skills needed to facilitate relational meetings. Those leading the training also drew connections between prophetic example and that of past civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X to demonstrate effective coalition building. After completing the training, participants were invited to continue honing their community organizing skills at IMAN Atlanta’s weekly Grassroots Power Hours.

To learn more and get involved with IMAN Atlanta’s organizing efforts, please contact atlanta@imancentral.org

IMAN Launches Fresh Market Stand

IMAN launched the new Fresh Market Stand initiative in early-March, adding another layer to our longstanding Food Ecosystems work in the Englewood and Chicago Lawn neighborhoods. Every Friday at 2 pm, visitors to IMAN’s Youth & Arts Wellness Center may purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, engage with health and wellness specialists, and receive helpful nutrition information. During the off-season of our weekly farmers market, the Fresh Market Stand will help meet the community need and demand for affordable fresh produce. In the first month alone, 420 lbs of produce were purchased at the Fresh Market Stand.

The Fresh Market Stand plays a key role in IMAN’s larger vision of cultivating community wellness through increased access to nutritious food options. Reinforcing the cooperative, sustainable spirit of our Food Ecosystems efforts, the Fresh Market Stand is also an opportunity for Corner Store Campaign partners to buy produce in bulk. Using a cooperative buying model, five partner stores have purchased a total of 280 lbs of produce since March 2019. In addition to reducing waste, this unique business arrangement makes fresh fruits and vegetables even more accessible to local individuals and families.

Our Fresh Market Stand will be open every Friday afternoon through the month of June. Another pillar of IMAN’s Food Ecosystems work–our weekly Farmers Market–will return on Friday, July 12th. For additional information about IMAN’s food justice organizing, and to get involved with any of these exciting campaigns, please contact Food Ecosystems Coordinator Eric Rodriguez at eric@imancentral.org.

Al Taw’am ‘Bridges’ Communities in ATL

Dance has the ability to connect us in ways unlike any other form of artistic expression. Each intricate movement communicates a message and invokes a unique emotion. Dynamic duo, twin dancers, Al Taw’am, introduced their signature dance techniques and movements to Atlanta during the final Sacred Cypher Creatives artist residency of the inaugural 2018-19 cohort. Their residency, titled “Bridges,” used dance to nurture connections to self, community and family through workshops that celebrate diversity of movement.

Al Taw’am facilitated inspiring workshops, which connected contemporary and vernacular hip hop dance to their West African roots, for high school students, college dancers, and elder attendees in an inviting, warm and engaging way. Many participants found a deep sense of community during these intimate workshops, and some even shed tears during closing reflections. A Spelman College freshman shared how she felt like she was finally at home in the dance studio, as she’s struggled to become acclimated to a new world on campus. During the Community Movement class, participants reflected on the feeling of liberation and confidence as they related to their bodies in new ways. Finally, the “Umi (Mommy) & Me” workshop, was an open space for generations of mothers, grandmothers and children to learn from each other and bond through collective choreographed movement.

In a time when our communities are being divided with hateful rhetoric and polarized by unjust policies, Al Taw’am used dance to connect Atlanta residents across cultures, faiths, and backgrounds. Special attention was given to intergenerational unity, bridging the gap between the youth and their elders. Learn more about Al Taw’am’s residency here.

Finally, the twins culminated their ‘Bridges’ residency as featured performers at the first CommUNITY Café of the year, kicking off the 2019 ‘Celebrating the Sacred Cypher’ series in Atlanta. The Café, held on January 26th at the Washington High Performing Arts Center, also featured IMAN Roster Artists Maimouna Youssef, Amir Sulaiman, Al Taw’am and K-Love The Poet. Through their performances, all of the artists invoked the artistic, cultural, social, and spiritual history of the symbolic ‘Sacred Cypher’, the theme which will connect all CommUNITY Cafés in 2019. Join us at the upcoming Cafés: March 30th, June 29th and October 26th in Chicago, and August 31st in Atlanta!