Imani Adbul-Haqq was in Cleveland last year to tape segments of ‘Get Connected!' at the UCC's national offices.
Last summer Imani Abdul-Haqq, a 17-year-old Muslim who showed abundant promise, was chosen by the Rev. Robert Chase, then executive director of the former UCC Office of Communication, to host "Get Connected!," an award-winning video about living a day in the life of another culture. "Get Connected!" was used in churches throughout the UCC, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to increase awareness of other cultures among young Americans.
This summer, Imani was accidently shot and killed. She bled to death July 24 in her Connecticut college apartment.
Imani Fitrah Abdul-Haqq was born on May 18, 1983, in Chicago to Rosa Shareef and Lionel Abdul-Haqq. "I have three children," says her mother by phone from Mississippi, "but Imani was my only daughter." Imani started reading early in her life and read avidly. She was also a talented artist, and used her talent for writing and drawing to provoke thought.
"Imani was shot accidently," says Shareef in measured tones. "Someone was cleaning a gun, it went off and the bullet hit Imani in the neck and she died." The matter is currently under investigation.
In the video, Imani's face, framed by a festive head-wrap and a single lock of hair on each side, lights up the screen as she talks about the "Global Village Experience." Personal vignettes during the 17-minute video reveal an intelligent young woman, intent on being a force for change. Imani's smile and bright outlook hold your attention, even as she throws her head back in a care- free guffaw or looks through you deeply, her piercing eyes commanding and convicted as they sparkle. Despite the two-dimensional, pixilated onscreen image, you can feel her intensity as she admonishes you to get up and change your community. "Hel-LO-OH?!"
Stories of tragedies like Imani's have become increasingly common; nevertheless, hers seems a special loss. With her uncommon character, virtue and leadership, one wonders aloud: Why Imani? Why now?
Imani came in contact with the UCC through Heifer Project International. Heifer Project donates animals and seedlings to help encourage burgeoning micro-economies in developing countries. It conducts a two-day Global Village Experience summer camp every year to help young people imagine what life is like in a developing country. Anna Bedford, director of communications at Heifer Project, remembers Imani as a young woman of strong faith. She had a "deep commitment to making life better for her local community and her world family," says Bedford.
Sue Bertrand, Heifer Project's program director, remembers Imani's introspective side. "She sought to understand injustice and its place in society," Bertram says. "She understood the power of racial diversity and the need for all of us to share with the less fortunate."
Imani attended the Global Village Experience camp for two years, but the first year she needed a push. "She said, ‘Why would I wanna go out and be in the woods when I LIVE in the woods?'" her mother recalls. "But I insisted. I didn't hear from her right away, and I began to worry. When I finally did hear from her, she said that she was having so much fun that she didn't have time to talk!"
The second year, Imani was a peer mentor, helping out the newer people. That's when Heifer Project and the UCC asked Imani if she would expand her role and serve as the video host for "Get Connected!" Those segments were filmed at UCC national offices in Cleveland. Chase, who produced the video, remembers Imani's passion for people.
"During a trust exercise at the Global Village Experience, the participants had to go over a wall," he says. "In order to get over the wall, you had to rely on your teammates to help you. Everyone was reluctant to start trusting one another, but Imani stepped forward and was the first one over the wall. Soon the others followed her lead.
"Imani had the highest of expectations: for herself, her peers and her world," says Chase. "She was a remarkable, unforgettable young woman—the best in what a role model can be, irrespective of religion, race or class."
"Imani wanted us all to live our lives," recalls her mother, "but more importantly, she wanted us to live our life pleasing God. I think that's her legacy."
Related website: www.heifer.org. Video stills are from "Get Connected" footage.