Registration drives are key to increasing voter turnout, and Chicago activist Jahmal Cole is helping to do just that through My Block, My Hood, My City, the nonprofit he founded to help area residents.
As Election Day draws closer, Cole says he understands why younger voters may not be enthusiastic about voting.
“They aren’t inspired by the electoral process,” he says. “They’ve never seen a politician say, ‘hey I love you. And we need you all, you’re going to be the voice of the future.’”
Cole encourages civic responsibility through the group, whether it’s packing care packages for seniors in the midst of the coronavirus, or shoveling snow. In all those efforts, his outreach starts with teenagers in under-resourced neighborhoods.
“The aldermen don’t demand that I pick up the trash in my alley, but if I want there to be less rats in my alley, I have to demand that of myself,” he says.
Cole has had aspirations to be a leader since he delivered the graduation speech for his North Chicago preschool class.
“We the Class of 1988 are determined to be our best in whatever we say or do, share a smile and to lend a hand to our neighbor because no matter what, we’ll be the best in a lifetime,” Cole says. “Those 50 words were the entirety of my preschool graduation speech. That was the mission statement of my life.”
Fast forward to today – at age 37 -- Cole has been called on by Chicago leaders to react, and call for calm after civil unrest erupted this summer after the shootings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake.
At Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s news conference following a night of looting in the city, Cole criticized the actions of looters, but said that it is not appropriate to condemn those actions without calling attention to the circumstances behind it.
“Ain’t no structure in the gangs with all this shooting, ain’t no structure in protests with all this looting,” he said.
He is raising his profile and funding for My Block My Hood My City with his message, often repeated in press conferences around the city.
“What’s something simple you can do on your block to have a positive impact on my block” he asks.
His goal is to offer hope but also change, to the youth of Chicago.
“I want change. I want change,” he says. “I want Amazon Prime fast change. It feels like the wheels of democracy are slow.”
As a voice for 2020, Jahmal Cole says it’s not just about Election Day, but that it’s about making change every day.
“I want to inspire hope in people, and to me, that’s just as important as an election,” he says.