CAIR-Chicago sponsored the eighth session of the Muslim Youth Leadership Symposium (MYLS) this past Saturday, September 24th. Over 50 youth participants attended and listened to presentations by five local Muslim leaders and professionals. The event showcased the diversity and multiculturalism of Muslim youth from the various private, public, and Islamic schools participating in the symposium. The symposium highlighted topics related to self-identity, media effects, activism and leadership.
SEE: photo album of the all-day conference below
“MYLS-Chicago promotes a proactive agenda for positive activism, empowering students to guide their communities from the margin to the mainstream through active leadership roles,” said CAIR-Chicago’s Outreach Coordinator Gerald Hankerson, who also serves as MYLS-Chicago’s Program Administrator. “Participants are encouraged to build their strengths, tap their potential, gain and share insights, and enrich their experiences so they bring solutions to their neighborhoods and our nation that are long-lasting and malleable with the needs of the times.”
MYLS-Chicago directly connects Muslim youth with leaders in the Muslim community who exemplify civic engagement and community leadership.
This year’s keynote speakers included:
-Omer Mozaffar, Instructor of Islamic theology at the University of Chicago, Loyola University Chicago, Elmhurst College, and other schools
-Sadaf Syed, Author/Photojournalist of iCOVER: A Day in the Life of a Muslim-American COVERed Girl
-Mike Swies, Program Coordinator for Convert Connection
-Maria Omar, Director of Media Relations, Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA)
-Ndidi Okakpu, Executive Fellow, Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN)
The students listened to the speakers discuss how Muslim-Americans view their identity and how Muslim youth can change stereotypes and perceptions through positive reinforcement. Speakers also talked about how the media contributes to misconceptions about Islam and Muslims, and how communications and outreach are essential to solving this problem. Students were inspired and roused by a panel discussion on activism and leadership, which encouraged them to actively seek leadership positions in their schools, mosques and communities. They were also advised to consider various career paths that they are truly passionate about to improve society overall.
“The symposium impacted me by bringing me to recognize the problems I have been desensitized to
“I never knew activism was such a big part of Islam,” commented Dana Abdullah of Aqsa School. “[The symposium] really shed light on that topic and inspired me.”
Led by facilitators, participants engaged in interactive activities and workshops to develop ideas on how to combat each social issue raised by the keynote speakers. Break-out sessions focusing on community service allowed students to take their inspiration and fresh ideas and work together to develop meaningful service projects in their communities.
“[MYLS-Chicago] improved my vision of project development [for my community], and helped me realize that anyone can make a difference,” said Mohamed Mohamed of Universal School
“This initiative recognizes that good citizenship begins with the local community, and so the emphasis is placed on local service,” Hankerson said. “Whether at the level of the street, the neighborhood, hometown, or our country, MYLS participants are encouraged to play an active role in making life safer, fairer, happier, more fulfilling, and more prosperous for all of us.”