Youth from under-resourced communities experience life changing and eye opening possibilities on citywide explorations of different Chicago neighborhoods.
My Block, My Hood, My City
Your imagination can take you to places beyond belief, yet your feet can carry you to destinations just as amazing – and not far from home. As “pedestrian” as this may seem, some never imagine venturing outside their neighborhood surroundings. Enter Jahmal Cole, a trailblazer providing youth from all neighborhoods the chance to explore Chicago.
Knowing that children’s futures are shaped by environment and experiences, Jahmal is determined to expose teens from under-resourced communities to new possibilities. He listened to the stories he heard from many young men he met while volunteering for two years at Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. Stories that made it clear that many had never been downtown or seen Lake Michigan. Wanting to change this bleak scenario for many young people, Jahmal founded My Block, My Hood, My City (MBMHMC). Its mission is to inspire teenagers by offering enriching opportunities, encouraging learning and instilling the hope that they can be whatever they want to be.
MBMHMC works with local businesses, community leaders and residents to expose young people to new cultures, art, cuisine and professions. The day is structured with hands-on learning, such as creating athletic shoes, visiting urban farmers’ aquaponics labs or even going sailing. The day ends with lunch featuring foods from Greek, Ethiopian, Italian or other cultures.
It is tragic that some teenagers don't feel a part of something larger, outside the radius of a few blocks. - Jahmal Cole, founder and CEO, My Block, My Hood, My City
Most MBMHMC explorations are Chicago-based and include city history and a community’s unique story. Explorations also include service events like shoveling snow for seniors or volunteering at homeless shelters. However, with support from sponsors like Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL), MBMHMC is able to take the teens outside of Chicago. They traveled to Springfield to learn about our state capital and Legislature. They flew to Washington, D.C., to explore our nation’s capital and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. For many teens, it was their first time on an airplane. For BCBSIL, helping support MBMHMC is a way to improve health equity and access to opportunity to keep communities safe and healthy.
These experiences broaden the participants’ horizon in many ways. Their curiosity and knowledge of the world increases, expanding their vision of what is possible – what they can do, who they can become.
Exploring the Positivity
Groups of about 15 teenagers from a school or nonprofit organization are taken on 10 explorations during the school year. MBMHMC engages students at risk for dropping out. The students typically come from low-income neighborhoods and are identified by school officials as those who may most benefit from the program. There are many benefits:
- Disconnected youth engage in the activities and develop new knowledge of their city.
- High school students remain engaged in learning and committed to school.
- High school graduates pursue post-secondary education.
- Youth find positive and caring adult role models.
Teens who take educational trips are likelier to be academically and financially successful. MBMHMC provides insight to avenues of educational, professional and social heights that some teens never imagined were achievable. Oh, the places they will go, indeed!
Learn more about MBMHMC.