My Block, My Hood, My City founder: Under-resourced schools, racial, economic injustice key causes of gun violence
A couple of months ago, Jahmal Cole set out to run 2.23 miles in honor of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man killed by two white men while jogging in Georgia.
The distance was symbolic: Feb. 23 was the date Arbery died.
But after just a mile, Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City, was suddenly exhausted, struggling to breathe.
“This run that I usually do with relative ease was damn near impossible because it had so much weight attached to it — I felt like I had ankle weights on,” Cole said. “I’m tired, man. I wore a hoodie for Trayvon [Martin], I took a knee for Philando [Castile], I held my breath for Eric [Garner], I walked for Laquan [McDonald], I cried for Bettie Jones. I’m tired of these slogans, man.”
Cole shared this moment during an impassioned speech at City Club of Chicago on Wednesday. The speech, largely directed at philanthropic and nonprofit groups, touched on police brutality, community disinvestment and what can be done to address gun violence.
“The way poverty and segregation contribute to gun violence is poorly understood . ... We never talk about the root causes of gun violence,” Cole said. “Gun violence isn’t a reality, gun violence is a reflection of racial and economic injustice, poor neighborhoods, under-resourced schools, high incarceration rates and high unemployment rates.”
“If you mix all those things together what does it taste like? Gun violence in Chicago.”
Curbing that violence, Cole said, can happen only through investment.
“We hear about defunding the police right now; that means to cut the local budget of the police and invest in community programs, public health which includes mental health, and also social needs,” Cole said. “There needs to be alternative intervention strategies — you don’t have to show up everywhere with a gun and a badge.”
Cole said the heaviness of what it’s like to be Black in the United States, and in Chicago in particular, weighs heavily even on the kids in his after-school explorer’s program. It isn’t right, he said, that kids he mentors must order food through a bulletproof window, or that there is more technology in CPD monitoring devices mounted on telephone poles in their neighborhoods than there is inside their neighborhood schools.
Cole also called on people to take the initiative to help repair the harm systemic inequality has caused in communities, capping his speech with a question to motivate those wanting to help:
“What’s something simple I can do that will have a positive impact on my block?”
Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City.