Muslim Run: Community Leaders Taking Charge

On March 2, 2011 community leaders of all stripes came together for an important steering committee meeting for the Muslim Run campaign. To start, in typical IMAN-style, committee members participated in an ice breaker exercise aimed at highlighting the diversity of talents and passions in the room. It was soon apparent that the committee personnel, from established business leaders to local activists and aspiring healthcare professionals, represented a range of skills and abilities that could be harnessed to further the campaign.

After the kickoff activity, leaders of the various tracks presented updates, with a focus on track objectives, strategies and next steps. Ameenah Muhammad, head of the policy and advocacy track, spoke of the efforts underway to ensure that a portion of the Fresh Food Fund be allocated to local community businesses. The track drafted a letter and solicited several hundred signatures in support of funds being allocated to small businesses, as opposed to large retailers solely. The letter was presented by a group of IMAN staffers and supporters in-person to a senior policy advisor to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, in conjunction with the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago’s (CIOGC) 3rd Annual Muslim Action Day, in Springfield, IL, on March 9. The next project for this track is to develop a detailed understanding of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) certification guidelines to advise and educate local store owners on compliance.

Melvin Lyons, leader of the education track, updated the committee on the efforts underway to measure and quantify the impact of the campaign on the local community. The track plans to devise and administer surveys prior to the launch of the campaign’s main efforts, in order to determine a baseline from which to judge the campaign’s efficacy. Ultimately, the perspective of local community members is what’s most important, as they are the individuals whose lives Muslim Run is trying to impact. The surveys are an important tool in gaining local buy-in and support for the process and engaging residents in the campaign. In conjunction with the surveys, the education track is planning on convening residents for a local town hall meeting to help develop a grassroots education curriculum on healthy lifestyle choices.

The final track, led by Sheelah Muhammad, is focused on building a sustainable business model for local store owners to profitably offer a wider selection of healthy food options. The track plans to meet in late March with a local business owner who has shown an interest and willingness to cooperate on such an alternative business model. The goal is to solicit feedback, gain perspective and ultimately work in conjunction with that owner to pilot the new model, with the eventual goal of replicating it across a network of 7-10 stores. Not only will this effort help develop a coalition of supporting businesses in the community, but it will also provide invaluable guidance for IMAN in developing its own business at the vacant property at 2747 63rd Street, across the street from the IMAN office. The business committee hopes to begin the planning process for developing that location into a model healthy food store and café in the near future.

A common theme reiterated throughout the meeting was the interdependence of the efforts across all tracks and the recognition that all three are critical for a successful campaign. Because the ultimate goal of the campaign is to create a self-sustaining solution to the healthy food access problem, both the supply and demand sides of the issue need to be addressed. The education track is focused on creating awareness of healthy lifestyle choices in the community, so that the demand for fresh foods increases locally, while the business track is focused on creating solutions for business owners to ensure supplying such food items is feasible and profitable. The policy and advocacy track supplements the other tracks by building awareness and lobbying at the community, city and state levels for both supply and demand side issues

There is a lot of excitement brewing around the Muslim Run campaign, and as the initiatives underway begin to take shape, there is a real possibility to transform the community in a lasting way. Please stay tuned for more updates.

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