There was excitement, energy and smiles all around. Nearly 400 – mostly young – people gathered at the University of Illinois-Chicago on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015 to be a part of CIOGC’s first Muslim Youth Expo! Youth from all across Chicagoland were in attendance to visit the resource and organization fair, career fair and art sale. The combined total number of booths was nearly 60. Institutions that participated included youth groups, schools, Muslim Student Associations (MSAs), advocacy organizations, social services agencies and others. They successfully showcased the community’s resources and talents as well as promoted youth activism and empowerment.
Interestingly enough, the expo took place on the same day that over 20 anti-Muslim rallies were reportedly scheduled across the country.
“American Muslims, especially youth, are dealing with very difficult challenges these days such as mass media attacks on their faith, notorious surveillance of their communities, and anti-Muslim bullying” said Gihad Ali, Director of Youth Programs at CIOGC and the main organizer of the event. Gihad added, “The Muslim Youth Expo was an opportunity to get together in a safe space, learn what our community has to offer, and discuss issues that are of importance to us.”
The Muslim Youth Expo featured the diverse talents of Muslim youth through art, spoken word poetry, hip hop, nasheed and more. The show was hosted by internationally renowned hip-hop artist, Chicago’s own Khaled M.
In addition, attendees had the opportunity to attend seven breakout sessions. These included Muslim Youth as Global Ambassadors; Know Your Rights with Law Enforcement and Social Media; Halal & Healthy Eating; Understanding DACA and Other Resources for Undocumented Youth; Muslims in Hip Hop; Youth Voices: What Pushes Us Away from the Community; and Calling All Causes: Youth Activism and Organizing Efforts. The sessions featured ten youth panelists, who spoke about the various causes they are involved with. These included #BlackLivesMatter, FBI surveillance in the community, raising awareness around mental and physical disability, and many others.
A group of Rohingya Burmese refugees were also in attendance at the Muslim Youth Expo. They did a brief presentation on their devastating experiences in Burma and their struggle to resettle in the United States. “That was a powerful presentation,” said Mariam S. “I wish more people could hear their message and learn their story.”
The day concluded with Br. Habeeb Quadri talking about why unity is important in our community. “We are proud to have organized this first-ever expo in Chicago at this time, and know that it was a great learning and networking opportunity for our youth,” said Tabassum Haleem, Executive Director of CIOGC.