My Block, My Hood, My City founder: Un­der-re­sourced schools, racial, eco­nomic in­jus­tice key causes of gun vi­o­lence

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MANNY RAMOS, STAFF REPORTER mramos@sun­times.com | @_ManuelRamo­s_ Manny Ramos is a corps mem­ber in Re­port for Amer­ica, a not-for-profit journalism pro­gram that aims to bol­ster Sun-Times cov­er­age of Chicago’s South and West sides.

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?”

PHOTO VIA COLIN BOYLE/MBMHC

Jah­mal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City.

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