Anti-racism organization to renovate house in Detroit for racial justice workshops, community events

Namira Islam says her work combating racism and inter-ethnic tension is a lot like bringing the human family back together. 

"There's so much in-fighting, but we're all kind of a big family and we need to be able to work together better and address grievances and come to a place of greater harmony and justice for everybody," says Islam. "That's why the idea of a home was really powerful."

The home Islam is referring to is a a residential duplex in Detroit that will be the headquarters for her organization, the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC).

MuslimARC is a faith-based human rights organization focused on addressing racial justice through education, outreach, and advocacy. According to the organization, it has reached 10,000 people on the ground in 30 cities plus many more online since it began in 2014. While it mostly targets race relations within the Muslim community and communities of color, it has broadened its reach to also combat Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry.

Islam, a Detroit native, is a lawyer and graphic designer who lives in Metro Detroit. She founded MuslimARC shortly after passing the bar exam. Her academic background focused on human rights law, specifically on the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training.

Her co-founder and co-director is Margari Hill, an adjunct professor, writer, and editor based in Los Angeles. They run MuslimARC together from L.A. and Detroit with one part-time worker and a handful of volunteers as a virtual organization, borrowing space from partner organizations for workshops and events. 

"We've been kind of like nomads," Islam says. "We have a lot of wonderful partner organizations who have been really gracious in offering us space whenever we needed it."

But now the organization is creating physical roots in Detroit. Islam was inspired to open a space while attending an event held by Dream of Detroit, a Muslim-led initiative to revitalize homes in marginalized neighborhoods. The organization held an open house for vacant homes that were eligible for redevelopment.

As Islam was touring one of the houses, she threw out the idea of buying one to use as office and event space. Hill, her co-founder, encouraged her to go for it.

And that's how the MuslimARC House project was born. By February, they hope to officially open the doors to their new brick-and-mortar home in a 1,900-square-foot duplex near the Muslim Center, a mosque and community center in Detroit's Dexter-Linwood neighborhood. 

MuslimARC's recently purchased house

MuslimARC members checking out the new ARChouse

The first floor will serve as an operational headquarters with offices and training space for small group sessions on topics like race, diversity, and inclusion. The basement will host larger workshops and community gatherings, while they plan to rent out the upstairs as residential space to generate revenue for the organization.

They purchased the house from the Detroit Land Bank Authority for about $1,000 in September. As part of the agreement, they must rehabilitate the property and bring it up to code within six months of closing.

MuslimARC has raised about $54,000, with about $26,000 from donations made through the ioby crowdfunding platform. They hope to eventually raise between $85,000 to $100,000, with three-quarters of its funds coming from offline donations and one-quarter online.

It raised 30 percent of its offline fundraising goal at a gala in November at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit where about 120 people attended.

The next phase of fundraising will focus on attracting donations of at least $1,688, in honor of the home's street address. Donors who give this amount will get an engraved nameplate on one of the walls in the home. 

"The idea is that the wall itself will be able to represent the diversity of our supporters," Islam says, "because we really are fortunate to have a lot of community support from various segments of the community, both Muslim and non-Muslim."

By focusing a majority of its fundraising campaign on offline donations, MuslimARC hopes to keep the local community involved, with stakeholders taking part in the project from the ground up and investing in the home because it's their space. 

Islam hopes people can come together in the home and break down barriers to communication between members of different nationalities and varying racial, ethnic, and religious communities. And a community-focused renovation is a perfect symbol for the healing that needs to take place in America. 

"That's really a powerful force in our climate where things are just constantly being torn apart in some ways, whether it's graffiti or arson or physical tearing down of structures," she says. "But also just the constant attacks on individuals and institutions and the faith itself."

Supporters have been uniting around the creation of the house, and there's been a sense of excitement and celebration as it comes together.

"I'm always kind of taken aback by just how diverse our coalition of support has been," Islam says. "I think it's just grown in terms of the representation that we're seeing from so many segments of the community."

This article is part of "Detroit Innovation," a series highlighting community-led projects that are improving the vitality of neighborhoods in Detroit, while recognizing the potential of residents to work with partners to solve the most pressing challenges facing their communities.

The series is supported by the New Economy Initiative, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan that's working to create an inclusive, innovative regional culture.

All photos by Nick Hagen

Read more articles by Melissa Anders.

Melissa Anders is a freelance journalist based in suburban Chicago.
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