Jahmal Cole talks Dr. King, gun violence, and healing PTSD
Lessons from a young social justice activist at Governors State University
In observance of the Martin Luther King Holiday, Governors State University (GovState) welcomed Jahmal Cole, a lightning rod for social activism in the city of Chicago, author, and founder of My Block, My Hood, My City.
Breakfast with GovState leadership and students, including the winners of the MLK writing contest, as well as the Crete-Monee High School Jazz Ensemble, kicked off a full day’s schedule that also included a podcast and small group sessions.
A survivor of gun violence, Cole not only spoke about his personal experiences surviving, he also imparted to those in attendance the state of children and teens living and surviving in a culture of violence.
“I told these stories not just because Dr. King was killed by a lunatic with a rifle. But because gun violence doesn’t just affect the person that was shot. The whole city has PTSD.”
Beyond Chicago, violence is a problem in many American cities today, Cole said.
Cole’s organization, My Block, My Hood, My City, was created in 2013 as a social impact organization that now operates from a $5 million budget and works to reduce the root causes of gun violence: racial and economic injustice; high incarceration rates; high unemployment; poor neighborhoods; and, under resourced schools.
“If these five conditions exist in a community — I don’t care if it's Naperville —there will be gun violence,” Cole said.
He called for volunteers for a march he’s planning for the first day of the Democratic National Convention this summer. Following the death of a student in his program, Cole created the March on Madison to End Gun Violence.
After breakfast, Cole spent time with Crete-Monee high school students where he shared his coming-of-age experiences. Throughout his college years, he faced many challenges acclimating to college life at Wayne State College.
Plagued by academic and financial troubles, Cole recalled being frustrated during his four years—especially with the basketball coach, who never let him play for a significant time while on the team. These challenges later inspired him to write a book. A 2005 Communications graduate, Cole has authored seven books.
One of Cole’s books, “Athletes and Emcees,” attracted attention that led to a crystallizing opportunity to give a motivational speech to youth in prison. He said the experience opened his eyes to the limited exposure many youth had. Most of them talked about their blocks and their hoods, but knew little about their city since they had never been far beyond their neighborhood.
He created My Block, My Hood, My City, to take teenagers on educational field trips, introducing them to things outside their blocks, like jobs they never knew existed and businesses they had little experience engaging with.
Opening the floor to the students, Cole answered questions on persevering through difficulties, overcoming roadblocks, and getting involved locally.
“You have to have goals that scare you a little bit,” said Cole. “What moves you? What are you scared to do? Whatever you’re scared to do, move towards that.”
After the talk, Crete-Monee Junior, Chelsee Rice said she was inspired. “He was so relatable … He didn’t talk to us like we were little kids.”
During a Radio Jaguar podcast, Cole shared his own inspiration with Dr. Joi Patterson, GovState’s Chief Diversity Officer, and Dr. Amy Vujaklija, Director of Educator Preparation, Accreditation, and Assessment.
“I wanted to be like Malcom and Martin. I wanted to speak and speak in suits. I wanted to teach people.”
Cole ended the day with GovState’s Beloved Community, a Social Justice Student Leadership Program, part of GovState’s Social Justice Initiative (SJI).
Cole offered the students his model for success to impact change. “I am good at recruiting volunteers, helping seniors, and raising funds. This is the model that I use and I just keep repeating it. This is a model that maybe the Beloved Community can use also,” he said.
Toward the day’s end, Cole reflected on his time at GovState, a campus he had never visited. “It’s beautiful here. I’ve seen so many races, religions, genders. You seem like a very diverse university. I’m inspired.”