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!

Grassroots Power Hour Returns 2019

Grassroots Power Hour, our weekly community forum has officially returned. Power Hour is a space open to neighborhood residents, youth, and others from across the city to build meaningful relationships and find shared values. These sessions will be held on Wednesday evenings in Chicago and on Thursday evenings in Atlanta.

Our staff organizers facilitate these sessions, helping to build collective power and momentum to address issues that impact our families and communities, including police accountability, food access, and criminal justice reform. Power Hours in Chicago will focus on politics at the local level—as we gear up for the February 26th mayoral and aldermanic elections—and at the state and national levels, where we will engage freshman legislators to drive meaningful policy change. In preparation for Georgia Justice Day 2019, our Atlanta team will devote their first few Power Hours to analyzing key issues impacting the community, highlighting the importance of a unified voice, and creating a plan of action.

In order to continue developing our deep network of organizers, both veteran and emerging leaders will be invited as featured facilitators each month. Dinner is also served every week just before the start of each session, giving attendees an opportunity to organically connect.

Be sure to join us for Power Hour in Chicago on Wednesday evenings at 5:30pm, or in Atlanta on Thursdays at 6pm.

*If you are interested in participating in Georgia Justice Day 2019 on Tuesday, February 26, register at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/justice-day-at-the-capitol-2019-registration-52325419739

If you have any questions, or would like to get involved in IMAN’s organizing campaigns, please contact Sara Hamdan (Chicago) at sara@imancentral.org or Atiba Jones (Atlanta) at atiba@imancentral.org

Spotlight: 2019 Behavioral Health Interns

IMAN’s expanding Behavioral Health work offers culturally competent services including individual, couples and group counseling. Faduma Sheikh-Abdi, Sandra Galicia, and Laura Caballero make up the dynamic team of graduate-level interns who have played a key role in helping increase community access to therapy. We sat down with them to learn more about their stories, experiences working with visitors to IMAN’s Community Health Center, and plans for future careers in the behavioral health field.

Tell us more about yourself.

Faduma: I was born in a refugee camp in Kenya after my family was forced to migrate from their indigenous home in Somalia due to civil war and famine. I was raised in Minneapolis, and moved to Chicago when I was 13. I grew a profound passion for intergenerational trauma after recognizing how I have internalized my family’s pain, which led me to enroll in the Clinical Mental Health program at Northeastern Illinois University.

Laura: I’m from San Antonio, TX and have been living in Chicago for 3 years now. I’m currently in my second year at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. I’ll be graduating with a Master’s in Social Work this June.

Sandra: I am proudly from Gage Park, and am currently in my second and final year of graduate study at UIC’s Jane Addams College of Social Work. Other interests of mine include urban agriculture and food accessibility.

What are your career goals/aspirations? What inspired you to pursue a future in Mental Health/Social Service?

L: After graduation, I hope to continue my work in community mental health. As a future therapist, I feel my services should be easily accessible so individuals and families feel confident in finding appropriate resources. I would like to eventually work at the intersection of law and mental health, supporting refugees and asylum seekers with trauma-informed services.

S: I plan to help bring more accessible mental health services to Gage Park, and the larger South Side. I was inspired to do this work after my partner was killed in a drive-by shooting when I was 16 years old. Reflecting on the connection between tragedies like that, systemic inequalities and institutional violence, I have strived to live a very intentional life. I am committed to helping disrupt the violence that unjustly impacts my community.

F: Not having a relationship with my sweet grandma [Ayayo]—who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease—created within me a burning desire to foster healing for anyone who is in need of help. I value sincere connections with elders, and am pursuing a career in mental health to help community members feel heard and validated.

Share an experience you’ve had thus far at IMAN that embodies “Health, Wellness & Healing”.

S: I don’t think I’ll ever forget the circle [gathering] we had after the Jason Van Dyke verdict. Staff, leaders and residents came together to share our thoughts and feelings after that emotionally charged day. While the cause for the circle was devastating, I feel that the circle itself embodied “Health, Wellness, & Healing.” I am lucky to have shared that space with folks.

F: Phenom, a talented IMAN artist and inspirational speaker, blew my mind during an Arts & Culture workshop. I felt everyone in that space tap into one powerful force of love and unity. There was no hierarchy, no judgment, just flowing energy and laughter.

L: The circle session after the Van Dyke trial. It was powerful to see IMAN come together to heal during a moment of great pain. The Behavioral Health team facilitated reflection to help everyone process their feelings and emotions. It was a beautiful moment of support I’ve never seen in a workplace.

Reflections: IMAN ATL Gets Out the Vote

Over the past few months, I’ve joined fellow IMAN organizers engaging with West Atlanta community members about the upcoming elections and encouraging them to vote. Through this, I learned about specific issues affecting the community and situated them in our nation’s sociopolitical context. These have been pivotal moments for me as a community organizer and graduate student of Public Health.

While canvassing, I encountered West Atlanta families who have lived in the community for over 40 years, and youth who are enrolled in local colleges and universities. By connecting with these neighbors, I discovered that each of them plays a role in the community, making West Atlanta truly unique.

On the college campuses, students shared with me their concerns about gun violence and public safety. Just last year, Georgia enacted a ‘campus carry’ law allowing students to bring secure and legal firearms onto campus for protection as a in response to recent campus shootings. Many students in Atlanta protested this legislation, wondering how more guns would make them any safer.

Meanwhile, the elders shared concerns about displacement and gentrification in a community that is changing in many ways, especially commercially. Long-standing residents find themselves stuck in the middle of a sharp decline in affordable housing, and a clear increase in community redevelopment.

I discovered a common thread linking the generations. The work of serving and uplifting the community must continue; the torch of leadership will be passed. But, how can we nurture that intergenerational collaboration if residents no longer feel secure in their homes and neighborhoods?

The experiences of the past months have infused my GOTV efforts with a deeper meaning. I became more determined than ever to ensure that residents were registered to vote, despite the reports of mysterious voter purges in Georgia. The #FightFearBuildPower movement continues, and IMAN Atlanta is fully aligned with the West End and citywide communities around issues directly affecting us.