Zakat Foundation of America is celebrating Black History Month with virtual events in addition to in-person food and PPE distributions. And these distributions are nothing new, falling in line with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, previous Black History Months, Juneteenth and other commemorative events and distributions.
At its core, Zakat Foundation of America’s goal is to use zakat — a mandated charity in Islam — to empower the disempowered. Founded in the suburbs of Chicago, a highly segregated city in a similarly segregated state and country, this has always meant working with Black people and other downtrodden individuals to ensure we understand their needs and facilitate opportunities for their success.
With 2021 marking the nonprofit’s 20th year, the international humanitarian aid organization has grown not just in its programmatic work but in its leadership. It started with a vision from a Kurdish man and an African American woman. Together, they have guided and delivered aid to the impoverished in 80 countries over 20 years. Never, though, have they neglected the ones nearest to them at home — including the Black community, in Chicago and nationwide.
“We created this organization intending to uphold the morals and values of Islam,” Executive Director Halil Demir said. “Our faith tells us that if we witness evil, we must correct it with our hands. If we can't do this, we must correct it with our speech; if we can't do that, then we must hate it with all of our heart, but this is considered the weakest of faith.
“Our commitment to diverse leadership stems from inclusiveness, equality, openness, and a better work environment. A work environment needs to reflect the fabric of our society.”
Demir said we need diversity because it allows us to get to know one another and our community's needs from a humanitarian perspective. We need to get to know one another, work with one another, and understand each other if we are going to accomplish our goals, he said.
Zakat Foundation of America’s leadership is mostly women, with Chief Operating Officer Amina Demir recently taking the helm, working alongside Program Manager Zebiba Jibreel and Health Advisor Donna Neil-Demir, RN, to implement short-term and sustainable long-term aid locally and abroad. These three Black women are leading the different parts of the charge, ensuring food security and health care for people who have run out of options.
Regardless of region, the nonprofit seeks justice for those most victimized by injustices and inequities as well as disasters man-made and natural.
“We are excited to honor Black humanitarians and icons this month as we have discussions, presentations and distributions celebrating African American positive impacts in our society,” said Nayma Kose, outreach and community engagement manager.
Kicking off the honorable Black History Month, Zakat Foundation of America hosted a grocery distribution for children that included fresh produce, dairy, and non-perishables — enough to guarantee breakfast and lunch six days out of the week for each child. More than 500 boxes, containing more than 8,000 pounds of nourishing food, were given for this program, called: Feed The Children! Healthy Minds, Healthy Futures!
Gourmet Gorilla co-hosted the event Wednesday morning at ACE Amandla Charter High School, which also co-sponsored it. Partners included Commissioner Alma E. Anaya, Alderman David Moore (17th Ward), Representative Aaron Ortiz, Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), and Latino Organization of the Southwest (LOS).