PULLMAN — About 20 teens from Pullman and Roseland traveled to Edgewater on the Far North Side for the first time over the weekend, where they made jewelry, tried Ethiopian food and visited a frozen custard shop.
“I think the best part was the Ethiopian restaurant because we got to explore a different type of culture and food,” said 15-year-old Dontreal Dismuke, a Roseland resident.
Chatham resident Jahmal Cole, 32, is the founder of "My Block, My Hood, My City," a program that exposes teens to neighborhoods outside their own. To fund these trips, Cole sells T-shirts, hoodies, tank tops and jerseys with the group’s name at his website, mbmhmc.com.
An advocate for educational reform, he started volunteering in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, where he would speak to the teen inmates.
“They told me they had never been Downtown,” he said, adding that he quickly realized there was a lot of pride in where each person was from. That’s where the program's name came from — "My Block, My Hood, My City."
The principal from Butler College Prep, which is in the Pullman neighborhood, reached out to Cole. He asked him if he could organize an exploration trip with some of his sophomore and junior male students.
“In just speaking with them about different neighborhoods, [I realized what] they’ve been exposed to is very limited,” said Butler’s assistant principal Topher Bordenave. “So speaking with Jahmal, our visions align as far as helping them get to know the different cultures in the city.”
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The energetic tourists, who all wore their group hoodies, made their first stop of the morning at Blue Buddha Boutique, 1127 W. Granville Avenue. The jewelry supply store offers tools, materials, patterns and classes for crafting chainmaille pieces.
The teens made bracelets, necklaces and keychains. Small groups of four and five sat at tables with their jewelry-making tools and listened closely to the class instructor.
“It was fun,” said Dismuke. “It was something different. I think I would try it again; it was cool.”
The next stop was Ethiopian Diamond Restaurant, 6120 N. Broadway. The group was seated at a long table in the middle of the eatery and greated by the owners. The table shared a traditional platter of whole lentil, spinach, potato, chicken and beef. In keeping with the tradition, everyone ate with their hands. Hot tea was brought out toward the end of the meal.
“The Ethiopian food was new to me,” said 16-year old Nathan Brown. “I’m so used to getting, like McDonald's, chicken and stuff, but the lamb, it was banging.”
When the meal was over, the teens excitedly shared their opinions on the Ethiopian food with one another as they walked down Broadway to their last stop of the day. Lickity Split specializes in frozen custard, but it also has candy, cupcakes and other desserts.
Store owner Ken Anderson welcomed the group. He said he likes Cole’s mission.
“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “It’s nice to get people from different neighborhoods to check out the city’s different neighborhoods. One thing about Edgewater is that it’s such a diverse community, so I personally love this.”
The teens took note on the differences between their communities and Edgewater’s. They said they definitely plan to visit again.
“I noticed they have a lot of old-fashioned things, like the structure of the buildings is very small, and I like it,” said Brown. “It looks nice. It’s just something I’ve never experienced before.”
“I learned, like with the food, that it’s always good to try new things because you might be in a big shock about it," Brown said.
Dismuke said he had never been to the North Side.
“Back home, I see the 'hood when I look around, but here, it’s not the same,” he said. “There is lots of different stuff and it’s more diverse.”
Cole said he enjoys introducing young people to new things.
"This was a fish-out-of-water experience,” he said, adding that he chose Edgewater for a reason.
“When I was thinking about where they are located in the city in Pullman, it’s like a farther south community. I thought it would be interesting to take them to [a Far North Side neighborhood] Edgewater.”
“Today was a new experience. If anything, we are expanding their world view... so to get them out their comfort zone and try something new, it’s good for them.”
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