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Jahmal Cole Says Chicago is an Activist City

Written by on December 5, 2019

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Jahmal Cole is the founder of My Block My Hood My City. 

My Block My Hood My City is a Chicago nonprofit that provides underprivileged youth with an awareness of the world and opportunities beyond their neighborhood.

We spoke with Jahmal about the youth of Chicago, broadening horizons, and why he loves this city. 

 


 

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Where in Chicago do you live? 

I live in Chatham on the south side of Chicago. I’ve been fighting out of the Chatham corner for 15 years. Chatham is a state of mind, it’s not a neighborhood. That state of mind represents black entrepreneurship, black homeownership and black club associations.

I love Chicago because it’s an activist city. We’re the stage. If you want to run a social Impact organization, this is where to do it from. You learn from the firing line of experience. It’s educational experience that you can’t get nowhere else. I love the city.

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Tell us about the work you do with your organization …

My Block My Hood My City is a 501c3 organization. Kids in Cook County Jail have never been downtown. Even though they can see the Sears Tower from there, they had never been there. Their whole worldview is shaped by their block or their hood. I knew I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to show them around the city, so I did something about it.

I started a program that takes youth on explorations. They’d see Lake Michigan and say, “what ocean is that?” A lot of kids in Chicago have never waved for a taxi before, they’ve never been in an elevator. That’s tragic. So what I do is take kids outside of their comfort zone, and I expose them to different cultures, different professions and different cuisines. 

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How has the city shaped you and your art, career, mission, etc.?

The city shows me love and I return it like Devin Hester. My organization could not be where we are if it wasn’t for the support of Chicago. We operate based upon people supporting us. In North Lawndale, there’s 15 currency exchanges and no banks. So if you work in a bank, and you’d like to host our students to show what kind of jobs are at a bank, please do. We want to be exposed to Microsoft engineering, we want to be exposed to consumer engagement, whatever field you work in …. our students deserve an opportunity to be exposed to that kind of stuff.

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At the end of the day, what would you like to give back to the community?

Chicago wasn’t really designed for everybody to be inspired. It’s hard to be inspired when you have to go to McDonald’s to use the wifi because you don’t have internet. It’s hard to be inspired when there’s no parents at the basketball game after school because all the parents are working two or three jobs. It’s hard to be inspired when there’s vacant lots full of trash and rats as big as Arizona cans.

We want to inspire hope, interrupt trauma and then build connections at the block level.


Listen to what Jamal’s Chicago sounds like:

Photographer: Tom Gavin

Audio Producer: Fyodor Sakhnovski

Transcript Edited By: Olivia Cerza