Catalyst Grantee Profile: My Block, My Hood, My City

My Block, My Hood, My City

Interview with Jahmal Cole, CEO My Block, My Hood, My City 

Organization Name:
My Block, My Hood, My City
Organization Website:
Organization Location:
Chicago, IL
Founding Year:
Organization Mission:
My Block, My Hood, My City provides underprivileged youth with an awareness of the world and opportunities beyond their neighborhoods. We take students on explorations focused on STEM, arts & culture, citizenship & volunteerism, health, community development, culinary arts, and entrepreneurism.
Population Served
Underprivileged youth (ages 14-18) from Chicago’s Englewood, North Lawndale, Roseland, and South Shore communities, 120 teens directly served to date.
Please describe the problem your organization is working to solve and the ways in which your organization’s approach to this work is new or unique.
We want to help teenagers overcome poverty and isolation they face, boosting [their] educational attainment and opening them to opportunities that make a difference in their lives.
What are some key accomplishments your organization has achieved.
To be honest, just being able to provide (120) teens with numerous safe explorations with no incidents has been a blessing. I started this program out of my jeep, with kids from the barbershop. Now we’re in seven schools. I’m also proud that we’re driving our first cohort of students to college this year. Ninety-five percent of our students know someone personally who’s been shot, but only 30 percent of our students know someone personally who’s been to college.
What obstacles (either expected or unexpected) has your organization faced and how have you addressed them?
I’ve learned that there’s a fundamental difference between the appeal of a practical organization and the appeal of a mass movement. Practical organizations offer people self advancement, but movements like My Block, My Hood, My City are about self-renunciation and self-sacrifice. I’ve learned that people can volunteer and have great enthusiasm, but after a year of working with kids in the hood, their passion for this work can become satisfied. If there’s no [personal] upward mobility [gained], then people get frustrated quicker. I basically have learned to recalibrate my expectations. Some people only with me for a season.
What current and future trends have you identified in your field?
I’m better when I play to my strengths. Instead of thinking about [broad] programs, I just stay around the kids and identify [specific] needs [and interests]. I will definitely do more podcasting with youth, actually teaching them how to produce their own podcasts, and more social media videos.
What advice do you have for others interested in contributing to positive changes in your field?
Know your goals and the risks associated with achieving them.
How can funders and supporters best help your organization accomplish its goals?
If you wake up wanting to do something about all this violence in Chicago, but don’t know what to do, listen up. My Explorers Program is a solution! If you show teens better, they do better. Exposure is key! Make a donation. We just need money, that’s all. I’m telling you, there’s plenty of money [readily available] when a corporation walks into a [local] elected official’s office and says, “Pay me or I’m leaving [the community],” but when it comes to investing in programs in poor communities, they’re like, “What have they done to really deserve it? How can we make sure they won’t abuse the system?” Come on, man. We just need money. This is the change you’re hoping for. Support this work. Help stop violence.

More from Jahmal Cole on My Block, My Hood, My City and  “Active Citizenship”

Press on My Block, My Hood, My City
SWHelper, My Block, My City, My Hood is Combining Social Justice With Service Learning