It might surprise you, but many teenagers from the surrounding neighborhoods of Chicago have never been downtown or even had the chance to see Lake Michigan, but Jahmal Cole is trying to change that. In 2014, he founded My Block, My Hood, My City (MBMHMC), an organization that helps teens experience the world beyond their neighborhood. In 2016, he was recognized for his dedication to building a better community, as the grand prize winner of the 2016 Mazda Drive for Good® nonprofit contest. After discovering the limits placed on teens in under-resourced neighborhoods, Cole was inspired to take action.
“[Chicago youths’] entire worldview was geographically bound and constricted to their neighborhood,” Cole explained. “To me, it was tragic that they didn’t feel a part of something larger outside the radius of a few blocks. I knew I had to do something about it.”
And so, My Block, My Hood, My City was born.
MBMHMC takes teenagers, or “explorers” as they call them in the program, from schools in underprivileged areas on educational explorations throughout Chicago to reveal the many opportunities in the city. The nonprofit uses the rich cultural diversity of Chicago neighborhoods to give the students a firsthand glimpse of the various careers, businesses, and diverse people living in the city.
“Our mission,” Cole explained, “is to boost educational attainment in these students, inspire teens to think broadly about their potential, and break down barriers to segregation to counteract the poverty and isolation they face.”
MBMHMC has big plans for 2017, and the $30,000 in goods and services from the Mazda Drive for Good program will be instrumental in helping the organization achieve its goals. Currently, the organization serves 45 students, but with help from Mazda Drive for Good, it plans to establish partnerships with five more schools in the coming year. In the long term, Cole hopes to grow the nonprofit’s funding, increase operations throughout Chicago, and expand to sister cities in the U.S. Cole knows that he has his work set out for him, but he is determined and optimistic.
“The Mazda Drive for Good competition brought more exposure to our organization, [but] we’re not done yet. We have a lot more work to do together,” said Cole. “With Mazda’s support, MBMHMC will have the resources to build out its operations, data management, and staffing necessary to achieve its goals.”
Through its explorations, MBMHMC aims to reveal hidden opportunities in Chicago and inspire teens from under-resourced neighborhoods to dream big and consider roles beyond their immediate community. To learn more about MBMHMC, or for volunteering and donation opportunities, visit http://mbmhmc.com/.