MYLS: Young Minds Learn to Lead
By Evan Fazio
This October the Muslim Youth Leadership Symposium (MYLS) in Chicago hosted its sixth annual gathering. Muslim High school students from around the Chicago area came to learn how they can become leaders in their community and what it takes to turn ideas into action. The one-day conference was held at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where members of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) volunteered.
This year’s theme was “Jumpstart Your Future: Commit to Activism,” and each student had their own take on what this theme meant to them.
“You have to be the first person to care about your future,” said one student, while another agreed, “It’s never too late and it’s never too early to start thinking about your future.”
Students received a variety of training and participated in workshops, led by presenters and facilitators who work in youth development and advocacy. Some sessions were designed to help them understand their strengths and weaknesses, while others focused on practicing such leadership skills as finding common ground, determining courses of action, and relating to other peoples’ issues, viewpoints and interests.
Students were encouraged to take what they learned from the speakers and workshops at MYLS and apply it to real situations.
“The whole event went really well,” said Maha Shams, a Community Relations Extern from CAIR-Chicago. “I think the students learned a lot about how to effectively lead. Everybody was engaged and we had very insightful conversations.”
Imam Abdullah Madyun from Masjid Al-Ihsan on Chicago’s South Side and the Islamic Institute on Urban Affairs gave an impassioned speech about the importance of being active and how Allah provides pathways to success for individuals who care enough to take action.
“Imam Madyun’s speech was very well received—many of the students personally thanked him for his words of encouragement and reflection,” said Gerald Hankerson, CAIR-Chicago’s Outreach Coordinator and MYLS administrator. “Nobody could have heard that speech and not felt inspired to go out and do their part to solve problems in their community.”
The second keynote speaker was Reynaldo Ty, Training Coordinator and Senior Training Assistant in the International Training Office and Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University (NIU). Ty coordinates and implements several programs a year focusing on youth advocacy, intercultural relations, and social issues, most distinctly the Philippine Youth Leadership Program. Ty’s presentation was directed at helping students cultivate their visions for a just society and teaching them models for creating change.
“Ty’s presentation was perfect for this year’s theme and it was instrumental in teaching students the way to create successful projects by themselves,” remarked Hankerson.
Finally, Alhlam Jbara, Associate Director at the Council for Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC), came to speak about current efforts by Muslim youth leaders to make their communities more just and engaged. She stressed that young people are in a greater position now than ever before to create change, and that students shouldn’t be discouraged because of their age.
Hankerson remarked, “We love giving the students the opportunity to hear from Jbara about what kind of things are being done today and how they can help right now.”
Hankerson concluded, “Imam Madyun inspired the youth, Ty showed them how to properly channel that motivation, and Ms. Jbara gave them ideas on how to get started. These presentations, conjoined with the lively workshops and engaging group discussions, made this event go a long way in preparing these young adults to go out into their communities and make their lives and the lives of every member of our society much better.”