Every Wednesday morning I go in search of the antithesis of the people I typically write about. We become so mired in the day-to-day venom that defines our social and political climate today that we forget … there are a lot of good people out there who are busy doing things to help people and the planet. I am always amazed at how many such people pop onto my radar on Tuesday nights when I am writing these posts, and it helps to restore my faith in the human race.
While the ‘man’ in the Oval Office has picked on Chicago, calling it a ‘disaster’ and ‘out of control’, Jahmal Cole was spending his time doing things to help make things better in Chicago.
Jahmal’s life, like so many others in Chicago, began in 1983 on the poor side of town, growing up in a home with parents who were drug addicts and split up more than a few times. Cole said his parents’ struggles with drugs and their frequent breakups would send him off with his father to live in Fort Worth, Texas.
“We didn’t have any money; we slept in the back of a U-Haul truck, but indirectly that was my vacation.”
He said those breakups showed him the country in a way other kids on his block had never seen, and his parents’ drug issues taught him responsibility.
“I was always the person my dad gave the money to — even at 12 years old — because I was the responsible one.”
Getting out of Chicago from time to time, seeing other parts of the world, fostered in Jahmal a determination to go to college. He stole a college guide from a teacher who refused to give one to him and settled on Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. That decision had his mother saying he was “acting white,” and got his jaw broken by other kids on the block. But none of that stopped Jahmal.
His father stole a rental truck to drive him to college, and they maxed out Cole’s credit cards to get the gas to get to the Detroit campus. Others might have given up, faced with such challenges, but Jahmal Cole does not give up.
Jahmal graduated with honours and used his skills and talents not to go into the business world, but to go into the world he had recently left, the streets of Chicago.
He strives to make the community a better place to live as he inspires and helps teens and young adults to rise above their present circumstances and upbringing.
He started out volunteering at the Cook County Jail. Working with young inmates, the thing he heard from all of them was “my block, my hood.” These young men had never known anything other than the boundaries of their neighborhoods, so Jahmal came up with a plan – take groups of young people and show them what the city looks like outside their own neighborhoods.
And this gave birth to My Block, My Hood, My City, a nonprofit dedicated to helping students find out what the outside world looks like. Many had never seen a taxi, rode in an elevator or been in a glass building. This simple idea of expanding the geography of at-risk youth could give them something to strive for besides the violence and poverty of their neighborhoods.
The mission of My Block, My Hood, My City as stated on their website is …
“To help teenagers overcome the poverty and isolation they face by boosging educational attainment and opeing them to opportunities that make a difference in their lives.”
My Block, My Hood, My City provides underprivileged youth with an awareness of the world and opportunities beyond their neighborhood. We take students on explorations focused on STEM, Arts & Culture, Citizenry & Volunteerism, Health, Community Development, Culinary Arts, and Entrepreneurism.
Recently, after a xnowstorm that blanketed the Chicago area, Jahmal put out a tweet …
Such is this man’s reputation that not 10 people turned up for the effort, but 120! And not only that, but people from all over the country, people who couldn’t show up in person, donated money and other items to My Block, My Hood, My City.
But this organization is not all Mr. Jahmal Cole does! An advocate for education reform in Chicago, Jahmal is passionate about improving schools and is a frequent speaker at colleges in the Chicago area. Jahmal is the author of The Torch of Decency: Rekindling the Spirit of Community Organizations, “Athletes & MC’s” and “50 Excuses: to not Follow your Dreams”, as well as his latest book, “Exposure is the Key”.
Jahmal Cole has not spent his 35 years sitting around bemoaning the crime and violence in his community, but instead has worked tirelessly to change the environment. There is only so much I can write here, but if you’re interested in learning more about Jahmal Cole and My Block, My Hood, My City, there are a few links at the bottom of this post. Meanwhile, I applaud this man and the difference he is making in the lives of so many young people in Chicago.
Links to further reading: