Billboard campaign aims to combat negative stereotypes about Muslim women

Driving north along I-294, half a mile north of I-290, you might notice a billboard showing an illustration of a covered Muslim woman with an outstretched hand and closed fist.

It's part of a four-week "My Hijab-My Right" campaign launched by three Chicago-area Islamic groups to combat negative stereotypes about the hijab, or head covering, worn by devout Muslim women and girls globally. The campaign also aims to highlight atrocities against women and minorities in India and elsewhere in the world.

Oakbrook Terrace-based GainPeace, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, and the ICNA Council for Social Justice designed the campaign to portray hijab as a symbol of empowerment. Its goal is supporting the rights of Muslim women who are being discriminated against and barred from attending Indian schools and colleges because of their hijab.

"Hijab is in the news with some positive, but mostly negative stereotypes about Muslim women," said Sabeel Ahmed, GainPeace executive director.

The group also has hosted exhibits depicting women in Islam, and American Muslim women in sports and politics at many mosques throughout the Chicago region.

Freedom schools

The Illinois State Board of Education has launched a $17 million grant to create the nation's first state-funded Freedom Schools network.

The Phillip Jackson Freedom Schools Grant will supplement in-school learning through a research-based, multicultural curriculum during the summer and/or school year. The program aims to improve performance outcomes for low-income students and address the opportunity gap and learning loss caused by the pandemic.

The pandemic has disproportionately affected low-income students, who last year experienced rates of chronic absenteeism 50% higher than the state average. The number of low-income students meeting or exceeding standards in math or English language arts also fell by twice as much as the state average, state data show.

Freedom Schools will offer students culturally relevant learning opportunities with academic and social supports, including quality teaching, challenging and engaging curricula, wraparound supports, a positive school climate, and strong ties to family and community.

The initiative is named after renowned Black educator Phillip Jackson, who founded and led the Black Star Project. The organization closes achievement gaps and supports economic empowerment for Black and Hispanic youth and families through community-based support programs like tutoring, mentoring, parent advocacy and development, and college preparation.

Grant application is open to public schools and universities, community colleges, and not-for-profit community organizations. Applications are available at and are due by 4:30 p.m. April 29.

Helping Afghan refugees

The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago will recognize women leaders who have been at the forefront of helping Afghan refugees, during a virtual program at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Itedal Shalabi, co-founder and executive director of Arab American Family Services, and Oghey Kherzai, CIOGC Afghan Refugee Task Force, will discuss various projects implemented to help Afghan women and girls pursue their individual potential and gain representation in the political, social, cultural, and economic arenas. The discussion will be moderated by CIOGC board member Shereen Hussain.

Register for the Zoom session at

Autism acceptance

The Elgin Police Department will host its second annual Heroes Unite Autism Acceptance event in partnership with The Autism Hero Project on April 23. The department also will raise awareness for Child Abuse Prevention Month during the same event from 1 to 4 p.m.

It will be held in front of the police department, 151 Douglas Ave., and is open to community members of all ages. No registration required.

There will be children's activities, community resources, vendors, raffles and giveaways.

Black scholarships

It's been 100 years since John W. Cromwell Jr. became the first Black certified public accountant.

Today, the Aspiring Black CPA Scholarship is a national initiative established to provide financial support for Black accounting students and professionals pursuing the CPA credential.

The scholarship is supported by the Black CPA Centennial Fund, which raised nearly $84,000 as part of a yearlong celebration honoring the 100th anniversary of Cromwell's landmark achievement.

Scholarships may provide financial support for expenses related to preparing for or taking the CPA exam, including college tuition, related classroom materials, exam preparation courses, exam application fees and tutors.

To be eligible, applicants must identify as Black or African American; be a senior, graduate student, or professional pursuing the CPA license; and intend to sit for the CPA exam within one year of applying for the scholarship. For more eligibility requirements and to apply, visit by the May 1 deadline.

Business loans

The Chicago Community Loan Fund has launched a $25 million loan fund to support African American, Latino, and other business developers of color.

The Communities of Color Fund will provide loans up to $1 million to borrowers of color for a 10-year term with an interest rate up to 4.75% amortized over 30 years.

Applicants, including for-profit and nonprofit entities, must be led by people of color, undertaking projects that include: seeking to create or preserve affordable housing; expanding commercial retail; creating jobs through a social enterprise; offering community services through a nonprofit facility; and developers building such projects in Chicago area communities of color.

Financing is available for new projects only, including those impacting low- to moderate-income areas of suburban Cook, Will, DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Lake counties. For information, visit

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