Grants to local community groups will help archive an untold story


Ahmed Flex Omar left Somaliland when he was only 3 because of the war and grew up in the United Arab Emirates before coming to Chicago at the age of 19.

In 2001, shortly after arriving, Omar brought in to live with his younger sisters and took on the responsibility of not only being their brother but also their parent, as he was the only one who could work and support themselves.

The self-taught network infrastructure engineer was fortunate enough to find work in the computer labs in the West Side building; It was then that he began to see the economic disparities that the community faces.

Omar’s story is just one of countless stories about black Muslims that have gone unnoticed or gone unnoticed – something he has been working to amplify over the past six years through his Muslim. American Leadership Alliance. A new $ 25,000 grant from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation hopes to help the group – and others like him – move forward.

“The foundation that focuses on this work is important because when we talk about the stories that built America, we have to tell the whole story. And for a long time, minorities have been ignored in this country,” Omar said. “People know Malcolm X, and they know Muhammad Ali. But there are so many stories in Chicago that haven’t been told yet.

The oral history project will unfold over the next year with stories collected from black Muslims in Chicago and shared on social media platforms, cataloged on Spotify and digitally recorded at the Library of Congress. The project involves retrieving the narrative of what it means to be a black Muslim in Chicago.

“For us storytelling is at the heart of everything we do, and it’s empowering that people can share their own stories,” said Omar. “It definitely changes the lives of the people who share their stories, because there is a lot of intergenerational trauma, and storytelling can be a space for testimony therapy. “

This type of therapy, Omar said, allows people to connect across the community and show that there are people who have faced similar struggles.

This grant is part of the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation’s Broadening Narratives initiative which aims to support collection projects in under-represented places.

“A lot of people think of museums or libraries, but there are cultural organizations some of which are over 100 years old and have large collections where these stories are kept,” said Ellen Placey Wadey, program director for the foundation. “These are the kind of people who are going to be stubborn with their records, and we want the general public to engage with these stories and… be part of the public record.”

Nearly $ 1.2 million was distributed to 11 groups in Chicago and the South Carolina Lowcountry; eight of the groups are based in the Chicago area. The goal is to prioritize art and historical collections from working class communities, LGBTQ and Black communities, Indigenous people and people of color.

The Puerto Rican Arts Alliance plans to expand its “Project El Archivo” with images and stories from the Puerto Rican LGBTQ community in Chicago in partnership with the Association of Latinx Action. The project was created to document, preserve, and digitize the history of Puerto Ricans in the Midwest dating back to the early 1900s through photos and stories.

The $ 25,000 grant she received will help the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance’s outreach efforts to encourage Chicagoans to share their photos and stories; digitize the articles; find themes in the content; and help form an advisory committee to move the project forward.

“We are fighting to bring visibility to the Puerto Rican and Latin American LGBTQ community,” said Jorge Felix, director of the organization’s art and studio exhibition program. “I think this is not just an archive, but a project that leaves a legacy for a generation of Puerto Ricans past, present and future.”

Felix said they have already collected over 2,500 photos, but are calling on the community to share their story more. The project will help identify and highlight some of the early LGBTQ Latino pioneers in Chicago.

“Chicago can find out how diverse Puerto Ricans are, how and why they migrated from the island, and how they fought in Chicago just to make it their home,” said Felix.

It should take around two years for the project to be completed, after which it will be available to the public, he said.


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