Cultivating Community in Chicago's South Shore

“I believe that people already have the necessary skills within them, and that you just have to show them the knowledge and power they already have within themselves,” said Fahmi Jones, a social worker and Zakat Foundation of America staff member. “Sometimes, if you just nudge somebody in the right direction, it’ll open up like a fountain.”

Mr. Jones works in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, reaching out to a community that’s seen more than its share of the city’s chronic troubles with violence. He works closely with Zakat Foundation of America’s U.S. Programs Coordinator, Marcus Knight, at the Zakat Foundation of America Chicago Community Hub (Zakat Foundation of AmericaCCH), a new initiative that reflects Zakat Foundation of America’s core mission of offering resources to meaningfully empower individuals and families in disadvantaged areas.

“This city has the resources, the problem is that the resources don’t always reach the people who need them the most,” said Mr. Knight. “The Zakat Foundation of America Community Hub is a channel to get essential knowledge and programs from the rest of the city to these underserved communities, to help them improve their own situation.”

The residents of South Shore struggle with the same challenges confronting many south and west side neighborhoods in Chicago, which often face disinvestment, joblessness, and severe crime levels. In sharp contrast with the more prosperous parts of the city, these communities have been forced to deal with the massive flight of employment opportunities, cuts in social services and, most recently, a wave of shuttered schools. Losing schools is especially harmful. It removes a crucial anchor of stability in the community, and often forces students to move through dangerous areas while traveling to their newly assigned school.

The challenges facing communities like South Shore are numerous, but facing them directly has never been more urgent. Zakat Foundation of America is committed to helping residents come together in fellowship to share knowledge with one another, and to acquire the skills and the know-how to materially improve their lives and their communities, such as financial literacy classes, children’s arts activities and free medical screenings. All throughout the month of October the Hub will be hosting an educational “Know Your Rights” workshop series focusing on citizen, employment, parental, and renters’ rights. Recently, the Zakat Foundation of America Hub also hosted local children to draw a mural featuring Chicago civic and religious leaders - strong role models for their future. “These kids are our future,” said Mr. Jones.

“We’re basically trying to give back to the community, to help guide our youth and give them the things they need to become leaders,” he continued, “and at the end of the day, if you’re not connecting with the youth, then what are you really accomplishing?”