Meet The Man Behind The Hoodies Designed To Save Chicago


Jahmal Cole is the man responsible for My Block My Hood My City, a program that provides underprivileged Chicago youth with exposure and involvement to opportunities beyond their own neighborhoods. The program takes students on explorations that encourage curiosity in the arts, science, volunteerism, STEM, entrepreneurism, and many other areas of interest. My Block My Hood My City takes teenagers outside of their comfort zones and shows them all that Chicago has to offer, giving them exposure to new perspectives and experiences that will inspire their futures.

Cole created My Block My Hood My City as a way to advocate for education reform in Chicago and inspire youth from underserved Chicago communities. Cole is recognized in his community as being a dedicated volunteer and has been the recipient of several awards. Including his two most recent awards, a 2017 Mazda Drive for Good Competition Winner and 2017 Monumental Baptist Church Humanitarian Award Winner.

Recently we sat down with Cole for #TheRevolutionaries web series to discuss his passion for volunteerism with Chicago youth and his key tips for success.

Read excerpts from Cole’s interview below and watch his full interview on Entrepreneur (How One Man Made $70,000 Selling Books on the Side of the Road) to learn how he is working to fix Chicago.

Get outside of your comfort zone and explore.
“So many teenagers have never been to downtown Chicago. So many teenagers have never been to the lake. Why would they go to the lake when they can just open the fire hydrant on their block. So what I do is I expose teenagers from under resourced communities to more opportunities. We take them to Gatorade to talk about consumer engagement. We take them to Facebook to talk about advertising. We just show them the world is bigger than their block or their neighborhood.”

There is no magic bullet for success.
“What I have learned about success and gaining momentum is that you just gotta do what you love and what you’re passionate about. If you do what you’re passionate about you are going to organically build relationships that will help you be successful. I know people look for some kind of magic bullet. Everybody has a business plan. Everybody has a big idea. But if you [have passion] that is what will resonate with people.”

Small actions make a big difference.
“It’s going to be great times in Chicago. We just have to identify where the hell we messed up. Did we mess up by having the bureaucratic top bottom approach. How can we change our philosophy? What is something simple I can do that will make a positive impact on my block? Just because it’s simple don’t mean it’s easy. You don’t have to have a masters degree to shovel your neighbor’s snow. You don’t have to have a law degree to call the police if you hear something on your block.

We should be asking ourselves what is something simple I can do? It’s how you feel about yourself and your attitude that is going to be reverberated throughout the city. Your block is reflection of who you are and you have a responsibility to what your block is. That block plays a larger role in the urban ecosystem that is Chicago. If you can’t handle the simple disciplines of your block, how can you handle the complex issues of the city? I just change people’s philosophies by telling them to take ownership of the city.”

Hustle for what you want.
“I stood outside FootLocker at Adams and State Street for a year to sell my book. I was standing outside of [the store] selling 10 books an hour for $10 bucks a piece. People inside of FootLocker were laughing at me but I was making $100 bucks an hour. I made like $70,000 that year.

From standing on that corner Toyota saw me and [they] gave me the entrepreneur of the year award, a free car and $75,000. [Just] by standing on the corner and selling books.”

Change your circumstances by changing your outlook.
“Don’t have a poverty of imagination. Poverty of finances is not what is hurting us in the hood. It’s poverty of imagination. I want people to change their philosophy and say, ‘Hey how can I empower [myself for the] future?”

Get to know your city. 
“Once I get [students] outside of their comfort zone and take them downtown that’s when you start dispelling all the myths that they had. [They say] ‘Oh I don’t feel welcome downtown,' 'There ain’t no black restaurants downtown,' or 'Ain’t no black people in Wicker Park.’" Cole says when students look around and realize that isn't true, they take that back to their community and advocate for something larger than themselves.