08.17.2019

Chicago Reader - 3 Yards Bangin' House Fest [Link to Story]

By Leor Galil and Sehar Sufi. Photos & Interviews by Sehar Sufi

In summer 2004, longtime house head Joseph "Pepe" Porter threw a party in his Calumet Heights backyard—and convinced his neighbors on either side to open their yards too. They called it 3 Yards Bangin’, and in the ensuing years it grew (like so many other great Chicago summertime traditions) until it wouldn’t fit in those three backyards. Porter moved the 2015 party, renamed the 3 Yards Bangin’ House Fest, to the blocked-off street outside his old high school, the Chicago Vocational Career Academy on the southeast side, which has continued to host it ever since.

On Saturday, August 17, 3 Yards Bangin’ celebrated its 15th anniversary with a roster of veteran house DJs, including Torin Edmond and Duane Powell. Photographer Sehar Sufi captured the action, to help remind us how neighborhood music festivals make Chicago summers so special. —Leor Galil

The crowd dances to DJ Duane Powell at 3 Yards Bangin’ House Fest.

The crowd dances to DJ Duane Powell at 3 Yards Bangin’ House Fest.

Asadah KIrkland (foreground) from South Shore dances to the musical stylings of DJ Duane Powell at 3YB. Asadah says it’s nice to come to a party that is in the neighborhood.

Asadah KIrkland (foreground) from South Shore dances to the musical stylings of DJ Duane Powell at 3YB. Asadah says it’s nice to come to a party that is in the neighborhood.

Many attendees are residents of the area and have formed bonds through House events.

Many attendees are residents of the area and have formed bonds through House events.

The 3YB House Fest attendees dance to DJ Torin Edmond.

The 3YB House Fest attendees dance to DJ Torin Edmond.

This is the First Lady’s fourth time DJ’ing at 3YB and third time hosting.

This is the First Lady’s fourth time DJ’ing at 3YB and third time hosting.

Cofounder of 3YB Joseph Porter (foreground) greets attendees of the 15th annual 3 Yards Bangin’ House Fest.

Cofounder of 3YB Joseph Porter (foreground) greets attendees of the 15th annual 3 Yards Bangin’ House Fest.

There were numerous local vendors selling merchandise from food to clothing at 3YB House Fest.

There were numerous local vendors selling merchandise from food to clothing at 3YB House Fest.

This is Larry’s first time at 3 Yards Bangin’ House Fest. “I am a House head. I love House music.

This is Larry’s first time at 3 Yards Bangin’ House Fest. “I am a House head. I love House music.

The crowd dances to DJ Duane Powell at 3 Yards Bangin’ House Fest.

The crowd dances to DJ Duane Powell at 3 Yards Bangin’ House Fest.

Raynese lives nearby and this is her third time attending 3YB. Raynese says “3YB represents “peaceful adults coming together in a family atmosphere and enjoying themselves. And more importantly, dancing.”

Raynese lives nearby and this is her third time attending 3YB. Raynese says “3YB represents “peaceful adults coming together in a family atmosphere and enjoying themselves. And more importantly, dancing.”

Many 3YB attendees brought their own chairs and tents to the fest.

Many 3YB attendees brought their own chairs and tents to the fest.

The crowd listens to 3YB founder Joseph “Pepe” Porter speak about Black entrepreneurship.

The crowd listens to 3YB founder Joseph “Pepe” Porter speak about Black entrepreneurship.


01.25.2019

First of its kind refugee-owned sewing group launches in Chicago [Link to Story]

Photos & Story by Sehar Sufi

A new kind of sewing company is coming to town.

Blue Tin Production Co-operative is America’s first refugee and immigrant-run sewing and clothing production co-operative. They are now raising seed funding through a Launchgood.com campaign to purchase materials, machines and other supplies.

The co-operative takes its name from the iconic and beloved blue Danish cookie tin that serves as a staple for storing sewing supplies in immigrant mothers’ homes. Co-op organizer Hoda Katebi, a Muslim Iranian-American author and voice behind the online radical political fashion publication JooJoo Azad, crowd sourced the name through social media suggestions. The co-operative model means that its members own, direct and manage the group.

Based out of American Islamic College in the Buena Park neighborhood, Blue Tin intends to provide refugee and low-income women with full-time work producing clothing for designers and brands. These highly-skilled seamstresses were selected after a two-month testing process with over 100 candidates from domestic violence shelters, refugee resettlement agencies and more. The aim is to be an alternative to domestic sweatshop-based fashion production that values the people behind the product as well as the environment.

“Made in America doesn’t always mean ethical,” says Katebi.

The Blue Tin’s goal isn’t just providing a living wage, but also health and well being services tailored to the women participating. This includes mental and physical health services, like trauma-informed yoga, legal and social services, free child care, transportation and language translation. Blue Tin members are able to learn new technical skills from fashion designers such as Jamie Hayes of Production Mode, a well-known purveyor of “slow fashion.”

Once it is fully up and running, Blue Tin will produce clothing for designers and major department stores. They also hope to create their own line of clothing designed and made by the women working at the co-op.

In addition to Katebi, who handles client relations and organizing for the co-op, three immigrant women run the co-op. Hailing from Kurdistan, Syria and Nigeria, these women have decades of experience in sewing and tailoring and are helping shape the co-op’s mission.

Mercy, who asked us not to use her last name, first learned how to sew in her hometown of Lagos, Nigeria. Sewing, she says, was her way to stay connected to the outside world while surviving domestic violence and abuse. Mercy says hearing about this co-operative and the chance to work with other women while sewing was like an answer to a prayer.

“I’m talking from experience when I say that sewing saved my life,” says Mercy. She hopes the co-operative expands to help others as well. “A lot of women are going through a lot of things. Sometimes they don’t have help. But with a co-op like this, they learn how to sew and they learn how to do something for themselves.”

Blue Tin Production Co-op plans on opening its doors in mid-March. In the meantime, they hope to raise $25,000 to purchase industrial sewing machines, ironing boards and other professional equipment to launch the business.

Story and photos by Sehar Sufi.

Mercy is one of four women behind Blue Tin Production Co-operative located in the American Islamic College in Chicago. Photo by Sehar Sufi.

Mercy is one of four women behind Blue Tin Production Co-operative located in the American Islamic College in Chicago. Photo by Sehar Sufi.

Members of the Blue Tin Cooperative prepare canvas totes for a Soho House Chicago launch event on Thursday, January 24. Photo by Sehar Sufi.

Members of the Blue Tin Cooperative prepare canvas totes for a Soho House Chicago launch event on Thursday, January 24. Photo by Sehar Sufi.

“I’m talking from experience when I say that sewing saved my life,” says Mercy. Photo by Sehar Sufi.

“I’m talking from experience when I say that sewing saved my life,” says Mercy. Photo by Sehar Sufi.



08.27.2018

Dream of Detroit’s 2nd Annual Street Fair

In August I attended a street fair hosted by Dream of Detroit. I left inspired by this burgeoning community being lifted up by people with an audacious vision. Dream of Detroit is a Muslim-led initiative “combining community organizing with strategic housing and land development to build a healthy community and empower marginalized neighborhoods.” as stated on its website.  For a city that has been on the receiving end of demolition after demolition of its ‘blighted’ housing,  Dream of Detroit offers a different vision. Dream’s strategic housing and land development initiative on Waverly Street (the street the fair took place on) aims to attract homeowners to inhabit all of its vacant properties.

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Community Life on Waverly Street

It wasn’t a coincidence that Dream of Detroit’s target area includes the The Muslim Center. The Muslim Center, a mosque that also houses a gym, cafe, community services and more, has been an active staple of the black Muslim community since the 80s when it opened its doors under the leadership of the late Imam W. Deen Muhammad. Other life sources of the area include HUDA Clinic and its urban garden. HUDA clinic serves the uninsured of Detroit with its medical, dental, podiatry, ophthalmology and mental health services. The clinic opened its doors in 2004 on funds gathered by the Muslim community. HUDA’s urban garden offers the community fresh produce and herbal remedies for various illnesses. What I saw at Dream of Detroit’s fair was a strong desire and effort to build a holistic community based on principles of sustainability, faith and compassion. I saw avenues being opened for people to develop and maintain supportive relationships—whether they be cultural, financial, familial and otherwise.

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Dream's annual fair brought together local vendors, live music, free health assessments, urban gardens, games and more.

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Grassroots efforts to repair and empower communities are often overlooked to uphold a simplistic picture of ‘blighted’ and grim urban areas. This simplistic picture often draws in efforts from outside of the community for economic development that ultimately prices native residents out of their hometowns. Dream of Detroit’s initiative emerges from the very community it seeks to revitalize. It is a reclaiming of culture, land and community which is an antithesis to the kind of ‘development’ that sees black and brown people as dispensable.

I look forward to seeing this initiative come to full fruition.

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