CHICAGO – It was midnight, an hour past curfew. Twenty-two-year-old Talib walked down Washtenaw Avenue and climbed the front steps of a Westside Chicago brick bungalow. His roommates were already there. The house manager, 50-year old Mustafa, was still awake, on the phone talking about Talib’s whereabouts with his executive director.
This was early on for Inner-City Muslim Action Network’s (IMAN) first adult transitional home and Mustafa felt that order still needed to be established. The housemates were pushing boundaries, “looking for the cracks,” he recalls. Mustafa needed to confront Talib, right away, to “mark that line in the sand.”
The two men squared off, Mustafa demanding adherence to the house rules, Talib demanding respect.
It’s a moment that stands out to Mustafa, as he recalls it three years later. “It could have gotten physical,” he says. They were both to that point.
But it didn’t.
Talib stood down, and right then the dynamic was set. Mustafa, after 34 years in prison, stepped into a role he had never played – and a role few others have played in the lives of these young men. He became an invested enforcer.
IMAN’s Green ReEntry program offers an array of transitional support for men returning to society after finishing long-term prison sentences. It also provides outreach for the area’s youth, often involved in rival gangs. The program puts older and younger generations together as much as possible.
Teenagers and men well into their 60s attend job training together. They have regular check-in sessions where they discuss their dreams, challenges, victories and setbacks. And they live together. The elders offer wisdom and guidance, and the younger generation provides purpose and energy.
For Mustafa and Talib, a relationship grew that became more than one of housemate or even friend.
“We have a real respect and understanding now,” Mustafa says. He recounts how Talib said Mustafa was more like a father to him than his own father.
“It’s strange, but what is family?” Mustafa says. “Sometimes family isn’t just blood.”
Marguerite Casey Foundation has commissioned this series, "America’s Family Album: Seeing the Unseen," by photographer Mike Kane. Kane is based in Seattle and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Mother Jones and The Guardian. On Instagram, he is @kaneinane. This content was posted on Jan. 24, 2020. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America. All original and contracted Equal Voice content – articles, photos and videos – can be reproduced for free, as long as proper credit and a link to our homepage are included. 2020 © Marguerite Casey Foundation