projectREACH: IMAN Inspires Change in Washington, D.C.

“I feel like we’re gonna change the world,” said Giovanni “Abdul-Majeed” Little, a projectREACH youth leader, after attending an organizing training conducted by IMAN last month in the nation’s capital.  Another attendee, Shamsuddin al-Haddad said simply that “the workshop was a success.”   Then, reflecting on what comes after, al-Haddad said: “Now we are tasked with having that same amount of commitment in carrying out the actual activities that will engage the youth we’re trying to reach.”

projectREACH, a local effort focused on Muslim youth from the Washington D.C. inner-city, has grown out of IMAN’s D.C. initiative .  IMAN has always envisioned that Muslims in other urban centers would draw on its model for dynamic civic engagement in their communities and the larger society.  As several Muslim communities expressed persistent interest in bringing IMAN to their cities, we launched the D.C. initiative to study the challenges and opportunities that other urban centers could bring.

Early on in the IMAN D.C. initiative, the needs of the Muslim youth were recognized as a priority by local leaders and projectREACH has grown around the desire and efforts to meet those needs.  projectREACH envisions youth becoming agents of social justice within their communities.  This will be achieved by preparing them to lead service-centered projects aimed at addressing needs that have continued to affect the wider population within D.C.’s inner-city.  Volunteers are working hard on the ground to respect youth and families, understand their current life realities and build authentic trusting relationships with them and local community stakeholders.  The vision also includes a physical location that could serve as a safe “third space” for community dialogue, cultural/artistic events and an entrepreneurial creative hub.

projectREACH organizes seminars and workshops to address areas of concern for local youth–such as avoiding the criminal justice system and providing practical guidance for seeking employment; it facilitates their exposure to Muslim creativity in the arts; it involves them in enriching community service experiences; it does basic math and language arts tutoring; and, last but not least, it organizes long-distance trips (e.g. to Philadelphia, Knoxville) and overnight camping retreats for youth.  In June 2010, a busload of youth from IMAN’s D.C. initiative had also traveled to C hicago, to both visit IMAN and attend Takin’ It to the Streets.  The common thread that brings all of projectREACH’s programming together is an emphasis on self-development and community empowerment.

In November, as part of IMAN’s continuing commitment to growing leadership, building capacity and developing organizing models for projectREACH, IMAN staff conducted a full day of organizing training in D.C. for its core leadership team and youth. This training introduced leaders and youth to grassroots organizing concepts and strategies, and provided a framework and common language to begin the longer-term strategic planning process for projectREACH.

A uniquely powerful aspect of IMAN’s organizing training, which resonated with the attendees, is that it explicitly grounds basic organizing concepts and strategies in the Muslim prophetic and spiritual traditions.  “The IMAN training and future gatherings like it can help revive the spirit of Muslims to solve the social problems of our society through drawing on guidance from the Qur’an and the Prophetic example,” said Sabir Talib-Deen , a local resident.  “We need to do this more. We need to see more of this.”

As a result of its consistent efforts and relationship-building over the last two years, projectREACH has secured valuable local resources and partnerships.  As projectREACH leverages these resources and relationships to improve and expand services, IMAN and its leadership are committed to staying closely connected by providing both models and on-the-ground help for engagement with the inner-city communities in Washington D.C.  Watch this space for updates.

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