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A Duke course with Grammy-winning producer 9th Wonder and sociologist Dr. Mark Anthony Neal inspired Ibrahim Maali to create Solidarity Studios, a mobile music production arm for artistically-oriented community groups who wish to incorporate original music. Now Ibrahim, who participated in DukeEngage-Cape Town in 2010, is partnering with the new DukeEngage-Chicago program co-led by Neal and Dr. Kisha Daniels. DukeEngage-Chicago participants will work with organizations with whom Solidarity Studios has partnered to engage youth via the arts around issues such as criminal justice reform, housing development, and anti-discrimination work.

Why did you choose your DukeEngage program/independent project?

I chose to go to Cape Town despite my initial instincts. My International Comparative Studies work until that point had focused on Arabic/Mideast culture and so I thought I would naturally participate in Cairo or perhaps a self-designed MENA program. I was blown away by the partner organizations of the Cape Town program and their history in the anti-apartheid struggle however. I was struck by the opportunity to learn from and work with organizations that could shed light on overcoming the apartheid currently experienced by Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank.

What are you doing now academically/professionally?

I am currently working in data analytics. I also am the founding director of a nonprofit music education program, Solidarity Studios.

A Solidarity Studios workshop in action.

Did DukeEngage influence your academic or career path? If so, how?

My DukeEngage experience was transformational in many ways. The experience learning about the nonviolent antiapartheid history of District Six led me to design an undergraduate ICS honors thesis research around the first oral histories of the Hands off District Six Campaign of the 1980s.

The Museum’s history, and current educational work, is centered on the concept of Solidarity. After graduation, I was inspired to create Solidarity Studios—an NGO which would equip community organizations like District Six with the equipment, training, and expertise they need to add original music and Hip Hop to their social justice and educational work. We also aim to connect District Six with sister organizations/studios in Chicago; Accra, Ghana; and Bethlehem, Palestine.

What was the most meaningful part of your DukeEngage experience (personally, academically, or professionally)?

The most meaningful part of the DukeEngage experience was getting such rare firsthand experience to learn from community leaders, journalists, and historians who all illuminated different perspectives of the complicated past and present. I am especially thankful to District Six for welcoming us into their work and allowing us to assist in a number of projects. Ex-Residents and Museum staff were very generous with their time and memories as we were asked to gather oral histories.

Just as importantly, I am appreciative that our program worked with such a diversity of organizations that we could all gain a lot from discussions guided by the professors at dinner.

Do you have a specific lesson learned from your DukeEngage experience that still holds true today? If so, what was it?

It takes time and presence to build a Community necessary for Community Organizing. Social Media is great to raise awareness, but Movements are built door to door and with people who know each other in person. Every organization we worked with in Cape Town was evidence of that and it is the same philosophy driving many Solidarity Studios partners in Chicago and beyond.

Are you still connected to DukeEngage? If so, how and why?

I am looking forward to working with the inaugural DukeEngage-Chicago program. We will place Duke students at a number of Solidarity Studios partner organizations in the city to give them firsthand experience on youth education through Hip Hop.

Do you think DukeEngage is an important program? Why or why not?

DukeEngage is hugely important to allow all students, regardless of means, to devote a summer in communities they care about. Students can contribute to communities in which they are already familiar or discover the stories of entirely new ones. Most importantly, students can see the work—mental, physical, and interpersonal—involved in grassroots organizations.

What’s one thing you want people to know about DukeEngage—in general or about your particular experience?

DukeEngage is a powerful program to take Duke students out of their comfort zone and forces them to spend meaningful time contemplating some of society’s biggest issues, face to face.