By Patrick Forrest
Before the country entered the current state of affairs that has led many to become active in street protests calling for racial justice, one man answered a calling in his heart to improve the lives of the children who live on those streets every day.
Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City, came together with City Club of Chicago for a virtual Q&A session on July 8, 2020, which covered his views on the current situation.
One touchy topic addressed was the relationship between the Black community and the police, an issue which has been brought to the country’s consciousness after weeks of nationwide protest following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis in June.
“The white kids in my program do not have the same reactions when they see police cars,” Cole said. “That makes me believe that we have done something fundamentally wrong in this country. White kids feel protected by police, feel empowered. They are taught to stand up for what they believe in, Black kids are taught to stand down.”
Cole who comes from a family line which involves policing explains how his views on the profession were shaped by stories from his great uncle, who was one of the first Black officers in the city of Houston. The experiences of Edward Thomas who joined the force in 1948, led to Cole’s outlook on policing and his outlook on racism in the world today.
“Mr. Thomas was not allowed to attend roll call with his white counterparts,” said former Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland at Thomas’ 2011 retirement. “He was not allowed to eat in the cafeteria, he was not allowed to drive a car. He was not allowed to arrest a white person. If he made an arrest, he got on a city bus and the bus took the prisoner and himself to the police station.”
That story of his great uncle shaped how Cole saw the world coming up as well as conversations highlighting the change in tone that Cole had with his father.
“It’s not the same thing as discrimination today, that’s cloaked in fancy words and language,” Cole said. “They don’t even say the n-word the same no more, there was a different level of vitriol, of hatred.”
That difference is what leads Cole to passionately fight for a difference in what he sees as a systematic problem within police departments throughout America.
“We know that there are hundreds of thousands of brave officers who take the sacrifice to protect us with integrity every day. We love you all and we appreciate you but this isn’t about you,” Cole said. “This is about a larger problem and it’s time that we acknowledge that there’s racism in the police department and that needs to be addressed.”
When he is not fighting to tackle the systemic issues in the city of Chicago one block at a time, he is running on those blocks and calls on others to join in that figurative and literal first step of activism.
“The streets give me love and I return it like Devin Hester,” Cole said. “Thank everybody for the love.”
While Cole has achieved many things in his past such as being named 2018 Chicagoan of the Year with his My Block, My Hood, My City program, he hopes to continue expanding and to meet further needs throughout the city. He welcomes business owners and those in different industries to help expose children to different outcomes.
“We have 36 schools on our waiting list,” Cole explained. “Expose them to different cultures, different professions and different cuisine. We have 10 and we want to get to at least 20 in the next five years.”
Information for the program and information on how to connect with other non-profit organizations that you may be able to assist with can be found at formyblock.org.