Local Dentists Help Boost IMAN’s Oral Health Work

The recently formed partnership between IMAN and the Chicago Muslim Dental Society (CMDS) has already yielded significant, mutual benefits. After the formal launch of a biweekly “working group” last month, IMAN’s Oral Health work has received crucial advice on best practices, generous donations of industry-standard equipment, and a growing pool of volunteer dentists. At the same time, CMDS has been able to make a tremendous impact in a Chicago community that is drastically underserved with regard to oral health.

Volunteer relationships and community partnerships have always been central to the mission and expansion of our larger health and wellness work. Since the launch of IMAN’s Oral Health Clinic in 2016, plans for strategic, holistic expansion have been prepared. What began as basic dental screenings and referrals has now grown into a fully operational oral health center serving a growing number of local patients.

IMAN’s relationship with CMDS pre-dates its Oral Health Clinic, initiated through a bond with a long-time supporter. Understanding the dire need for accessible, affordable dental care on Chicago’s Southwest Side, both organizations brought their expertise to the table in order to build the infrastructure necessary for a meaningful intervention. As IMAN’s Health Clinic offerings-including oral health-continue to grow, the CMDS partnership demonstrates the profound impact of a broader Chicagoland Muslim health community which truly believes in and contributes to delivering dignified care to individuals and families most directly-affected by health crises.

Organizing Training Engages Largest Cohort Yet

During the weekend of August 12-13, IMAN’s Community Organizing Training returned to Catholic Theological Union in Hyde Park, where 40 leaders gathered to strengthen their understanding of concepts and skills for making change in their communities. This year’s training participants brought together longtime IMAN leaders from our Green Reentry and our organizing campaigns, and included leaders from across Chicagoland and from out of state, working on a range of issues in their communities.

In addition to IMAN’s standard modules focused on the importance of knowing and sharing our stories, relationship building, self-interest, and power, this year’s training highlighted the connection between organizing, the arts, and mental health, which has long characterized IMAN’s holistic model. PHENOM, a longtime IMAN arts leader, performed pieces on power and community building, and Licensed Clinical Social Worker Suzanne Chopra led modules around the importance of goal setting and self care.

At the same time the trainees were forging common bonds in Hyde Park, the tragic events in Charlottesville were polarizing the nation. Witnessing the chaotic violence in Virginia’s streets served as a stark reminder of why holistic spaces like IMAN’s Organizing Training and Grassroots Power Hour are essential to establishing a truly beloved community.

God willing, organizers will continue to spread IMAN’s model to leaders throughout Chicago and across the country. Weekly Grassroots Power Hour sessions will shift to Tuesday evenings starting September 18, and IMAN will close out the year with a special training in Detroit. For more information on IMAN’s organizing efforts, contact Senior Organizer Shamar Hemphill at shamar@imancentral.org

Atlanta Community Gathers to Support ReEntry Efforts

In 2011, approximately 1,885 individuals were released from state or federal custody each day – that’s 688,384 individuals that year, according to the National Institute of Justice. Returning citizens struggle with unstable housing, inadequate employment and over policing, all issues that often contribute to incarceration in the first place. What can be done to ease their transition back home and back into their communities?

On July 29, community members, behavioral health professionals, lawyers and law professors, mothers, and returning citizens themselves attended ‘IMAN Sessions: Investing in Lives #BeyondIncarceration’. Discussion revolved around IMAN’s Green ReEntry program, and ways it can continue to offer support to returning citizens via life skills training and workforce development.

Judge Fatima El-Amin and IMAN Atlanta’s Green ReEntry Manager, Jermaine Shareef, spoke to a packed crowd about their personal experiences with the criminal justice system and reentry work. Various points of view and approaches to the criminal justice system were raised. Tears were shed, hugs were shared, and the conversation ran deep.

Guests shared their perspectives on what should be incorporated into effective reentry programs. As IMAN incorporates a holistic approach to meet the needs of Atlanta’s returning citizens, the importance of hearing the needs of those most directly affected by the criminal justice system cannot be overstated.

Community members connected and shared additional information after the conclusion of the event. It became evident to IMAN Atlanta staff that the issues around incarceration and reentry require continued committed, grassroots community space. This inspired IMAN Atlanta to plan IMAN Sessions: Investing in Lives #BeyondIncarceration Part 2, for September 23rd.

At that gathering, IMAN Atlanta will introduce its second Green ReEntry cohort, share the action plan created at the first IMAN Sessions discussion, and continue to preserve the safe space desired by community members of all backgrounds.

Green ReEntry Expands Outreach with New Staff

After years of helping returning citizens successfully reacclimate to their communities, the Green ReEntry program is poised to significantly deepen its impact. In partnership with the Emerson Collective, Green ReEntry has expanded the size of its cohorts from a handful of brothers to a dynamic, intergenerational group of over 30 men.

To facilitate the continued success of Green ReEntry participants, IMAN has hired three highly skilled full-time staff: Case Manager Billy Moore, and Case Workers Ali Kanoya and Gemali Ibrahim. We sat down with the new team to learn more about their stories and their vision for Green ReEntry’s future growth.

What does the Green ReEntry program have to offer?

Billy: We’re working with men who are really facing significant challenges to their wellbeing, so it’s imperative that our work has a positive impact. Our goal is to shift the way that these guys think about themselves and their communities, and we’ve developed a curriculum to achieve that by instilling values of brotherhood, professionalism and conflict resolution.

Ali: Life skills training is another key component. We speak a language the participants understand, and we grew up in similar communities to theirs. Our job is to be a guide and mentor to young brothers who haven’t had that luxury thus far in their lives.

What inspires you to get involved in this work? It’s far from easy.

Gemali: I feel the most spiritually attuned in those moments when I’m recognizing the interconnectedness of the human family. One of the ways God has shown me that He is real has been through brotherhood. Helping my fellow community members is a practice that’s been a part of my life since childhood. It’s in my DNA at this point, and I consider IMAN and the surrounding area to be my community.

Billy: Returning citizens looking to get back on track, avoid re-offending, and contribute positively to their communities must do so with extremely limited resources. This opportunity to serve others is a blessing, because I know all too well what it feels like to sit on the other side of the desk and need help successfully reintegrating into society. IMAN has been in the trenches for years now doing the work, directing significant resources to those who need them in a way that’s relevant and compassionate.

Ali: I will never forget a realization that I had during my final days of incarceration. I remember seeing intelligent, strong-willed, physically fit, and brave brothers all around me. It hurt to see the beauty of our community locked up like that. I wanted to see that beauty flourish back at home, doing something positive in the streets. I still want that, and Green ReEntry is the best outlet I’ve seen to accomplish that goal.

At this current moment in Chicago, why is the Green ReEntry program so necessary?

Ali: Chicago has been associated with gangs and violence for generations, but what can’t be forgotten is the fact that those traditions also included real valor and codes of ethics that people lived by. That legacy has worn away, and we see the youth in chaos on many levels as a result. All of these young guys aren’t monsters. That’s an artificial message that’s being promoted in the culture, but that’s not who these guys really are at their core. We need to reach back and encourage young men to develop a sense of accountability, perseverance and dignity. God willing, we can shift that culture.

Gemali: I remember meeting a brother at Ramadan Reflections. He said he refused to bring his children because he wasn’t sure about “what kind of neighborhood IMAN is in.” He lives maybe 30 minutes from the office. That affected me, because of how much I love this city and the relationships that I’ve built here. But, if you turn on the TV, you understand how he can feel that fear. I am inspired by the example of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as he first entered the city of Medina. He instructed the people to spread peace, feed the hungry, and spend time at night in prayer. We need to reflect more deeply on the fact that he said “spread peace” first.

Billy: Chicago is a world-class city, there’s no denying that. But, what is becoming clearer even in mainstream media is that the story of Chicago, in reality, is a tale of two cities. The wellbeing of our part of the city isn’t prioritized. You hear about the violence and the homicides, the 40% unemployment among young men in Englewood, the 54 closed schools, and the underrepresentation of Black-owned businesses. Legislators and other officials play a role, but programs like Green ReEntry are what really empower individuals and families to take control over their lives in a meaningful way.