ROSELAND — Corey Hardiman and 14 classmates from Morehouse College in Atlanta chose to spend their spring break volunteering in Chicago this week rather than go somewhere warm.
Hardiman, a 22-year-old senior political science major, said he brought his classmates to Chicago as a way to give back to the community where he lives with his grandmother.
"When I was growing up [in Roseland] I saw very few, if any, black men volunteering or mentoring to youngsters," recalled Hardiman. "Roseland is where I hail from, and I wanted to do something in my own community to help make it better."
In 2012, Hardiman said he founded the Enough Chicago organization, as a platform to encourage young people to focus on education, to get politicians to increase the number of city community centers and to push business leaders to help stem unemployment among blacks.
Last year, his organization awarded its first college scholarship for $250 to a Corliss High School senior, who now attends DePauw University in Indiana. Hardiman is also a Corliss alumnus.
On Monday the group volunteered at the Roseland Christian Ministries' food pantry, which is also where the group will be staying while in town. Other Roseland activities include speaking to youths at the nonprofit Kids Off The Block Inc. and at Lavizzo Elementary School on Tuesday and volunteering at the Impact Family Center on Wednesday. The group also will feed the homeless at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Back of the Yards on Thursday. The group will head back to school Saturday morning.
Anthony Van Zanten, founder of Roseland Christian Ministries, said he was thrilled to host the group.
"I wanted to host these young men because I was very impressed with Corey and his spirit. And to see a group of young men who have the desire to do community service work is a benefit for the community and for us," Zanten said.
Morehouse College students handed out food to families visiting the Roseland Christian Ministries pantry and said they are excited to be in Chicago.
This is the first time Reginald McCrimmon, who lives in Columbus, S.C., has been to Chicago.
"I think Chicago is cool. I am safe, and the weather is not as cold as I had expected," said McCrimmon, a 21-year-old sociology major. "I want to work with kids after I graduate and that involves patience and a desire to help people. Doing volunteer work will provide me with the experience in both of these areas."
Robin McKinnie lives in Winston Salem, N.C., and has never been to Chicago before either.
"I came here to get more experience in community development. And working in a community like Roseland is a great way to gain experience," said McKinnie, an 18-year-old economics major.
But before McKinnie leaves he has set a goal for himself.
"I hope to identify 10 problems plaguing Chicago that I could study when I go back to school," he said.
Austin Little, an electrical engineering major who lives in Bluefield, Mich., has been to Chicago a few times.
"I have only been to Downtown and Evanston. I have never been to any of the neighborhoods until now," said Little, 18. "Being here in Roseland is the 'real' part of Chicago. Downtown is a tourist area and does not really represent what Chicago is all about."
Hardiman said in the next five years he plans to run for an elected office.
"I want to be mayor of Chicago one day, but I know before I get there I will probably run for another office. Who knows? Maybe I will run for alderman of the 9th Ward," Hardiman said.
Ald. Anthony Beale represents the 9th Ward, which includes Roseland.
"I welcome this young man to seek public office. I will not be the alderman forever, and we need more young people to enter public service work," said Beale, also a Corliss alumnus. "I think what he and his friends are doing in Chicago this week is fantastic, and I support their efforts."
Abel Gumbo is 19-year-old computer science major from Zimbabwe and likes warm weather.
"I don't like the cold, but I wanted to come [to Chicago] anyway to do my part in helping others," explained Gumbo. "Morehouse encourages its students to get involved in community service work, and that is what this trip is all about."
The group will end its weeklong mission Friday by attending the first Young Men of Color Summit at Olive-Harvey College. According to Hardiman, 450 young black men are expected to attend and will be speaking to educators, professionals and "other black men doing positive things with their lives," he said.
Hardiman knows firsthand about the absence of black fathers. His father is incarcerated in Louisiana.
"At first he was at a prison in Indiana, and I was able to go see him before I went away to college. But since his being moved to Louisiana, I have not seen him since 2010," Hardiman said. "I plan on going to see him this year to let him know I graduated from college."
Chicago Treasurer Stephanie Neely praised Hardiman and other young black men whose fathers are absent from their lives but who have excelled anyway. Neely, a founding board member of Urban Prep Academy High School, an all-boys charter school, is also a single mother of a 15-year-old son.
"I know what it is like to raise a black boy in Chicago. It is no easy task, especially when you are a single parent," Neely said. "The Hadiya Pendleton shooting affected my son a lot because it occurred a block away from our home."
The Pendleton shooting sparked a national debate on gun violence, and Neely said it also showed how important it is for black men to be active within their community.
"Black men need to be more involved in their community and in mentoring our youth," she said. "It is our responsibility as a black community to embrace our young people."