Chicago organizer and storyteller Malik Alim is known as a community builder

For Malik Alim, it seemed possible to change the world.

He was optimistic but in a practical way, seeking a social solution through policy changes, said Kevin Cao, who took a course on the intersection of politics and activism led by Alim at the Roosevelt Institute years ago.

“He could see a way forward,” Cao said. “He never gave up. He always remained optimistic in an environment that really didn’t want him to be.

Chicago activists have mourned the death of Alim, 28, since he was removed from Mineola Bay along Fox Lake on August 22. He was last seen struggling in Fox Lake after a tube he was lying on top of. He appears to have died accidentally by drowning, said Jennifer Banek, Lake County coroner.

This week, a resolution mourning Alim passed by the Illinois Senate. He has been hailed as a community organizer and storyteller who “cultivated and nurtured the community where he went; he encouraged people to imagine a better world and to come together to make it possible.

Alim worked as a campaign coordinator for the Chicago Community Bond Fund, organizing more than two dozen events leading to the passage of legislation that will end the cash bond system by 2023. Governor JB Pritzker described the bill as a step towards “dismantling the racist system that plagues our communities.

Keisa Reynolds, transition executive director of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, said Alim was a thinker who was also a welcoming person and valued a sense of community, Reynolds said.

Malik Alim, campaign coordinator for the Coalition to End Money Bond, died in a boating accident on August 22.
Pat Nabong / Sun-Times file

Alim played a central role in creating the #BreathingRoom space which is located in the Back of the Yards as part of the #LetUsBreathe Collective, said Damon Williams, co-director of the collective.

Alim helped rehabilitate the space – at one point alive in the building – while transforming it into a hub for organizing and cultural events, Williams said. Alim coined the term “pro good,” which means welfare and protection as an alternative to policing, Williams said. The collective aims to create a world without prisons and police, according to its website.

“Many of us have come together to resist the oppressive violence of the police, and we have come together with the belief that we need to create a new world and a new way of being,” Williams said. “And a new way of caring for each other, and a new way of actually protecting ourselves from harm and violence, by transforming our behavior into healthier relationships.”

Alim also worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago, helping to reinvent the Chicago Justice Gallery space as a gallery director and event planner, said Barbara Ransby, director of the Social Justice Initiative of university. Alim loved the visuals and what would be compelling to the young people entering, Ransby said.

He hosted a concert with Taína Asili, a New York-based Puerto Rican singer and activist whose music touches on liberation, Ransby said.

“I think speaking was very important to him and made words and ideas accessible through art and sound production,” said Ransby.

About a month ago, Chakena Perry felt like she had left the Chicago Votes Action Fund in good hands when Alim took over as chairman of the group’s board.

Perry, who worked at Chicago Votes from 2013-2021, described Alim as an incredible storyteller. Alim opposed the denial of the right to vote at the ballot box.

“He tried to incorporate all of the voices that we are trying to influence,” Perry said. “We work with incarcerated people, previously incarcerated people and the artist community. He was big on fairness.

They met in 2014 at a Black Youth Project 100 reunion, and their paths crossed again at the DemocracyCorps Chicago Votes scholarship. The group teaches young people the basics of grassroots democracy while trying to develop the next generation of leaders, according to its website.

“The students we worked with in the classroom, we taught them tips about the legislative process,” said Perry. “It’s one of my favorite memories of Malik because he has a really cool way of taking things seriously, but we also have a sense of humor.”

Alim had two children, one of whom was with his life partner, Kristiana Rae Colón.

For Cao, 23, the class with Alim stayed with him, especially his message to find a vocation. Cao is attending medical school and wants to work on equity issues in aging.

“He taught us a lesson: you have to imagine a better world to achieve this,” Cao said. “It just stays with me. He knew you could always make a better world.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

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