CHATHAM — My Block, My Hood, My City founder Jahmal Cole was surprised with a $30,000 grant for his organization late Wednesday afternoon — crucial money he said would help him take on another school and 15 students as part of his youth travel group.
"I don't really look at it as a charity, I look at it more like an obligation," Cole told NBC recently. "You get tired of hearing gunshots, you get tired hearing about the negative stereotypes about Chicago — somebody's got to step up and do something. This was my way of doing something."
On Thursday, Cole appeared on the "Today Show" with host Al Roker to talk about winning the grant, which he said will help him expand his current group of about 45 students across three schools.
Cole also gave Roker one of the group's patented hoodies — like the one Usher was spotted wearing in February.
When people purchase his My Block My Hood My City T-shirts and hoodies online, they’re also helping fund the explorations.
The award came from a partnership between NBC Universal and the Mazda Drive For Good community charity campaign, which received submissions for nonprofits from around the country.
A panel of judges reviewed the submissions and chose My Block, My Hood, My City — an organization founded in 2014 to help students in underserved Chicago neighborhoods explore and travel — as the grand prize winner. Four other organizations were awarded $10,000 grants.
"Jahmal and his team at My Block, My Hood, My City stood out because of their dedication to helping youth experience and explore new adventures in their city,” said Masahiro Moro, president and CEO of Mazda. “We felt My Block, My Hood, My City, as well as the other wonderful organizations, established a clear goal for how their organization would continue to improve the lives of others— something important to continuing their support of their local community, and something that closely identifies with the mission of the Mazda Drive for Good program.”
Cole and his organization have taken students, whom he calls "explorers," to parts of Chicago they've never experienced — including Downtown, Greek Town and the North Side — allowing them to become tourists in their own city.
Cole has held neighborhood and citywide peace rallies and potlucks, organized park cleanup crews and brought North Siders to Englewood — always citing a desire for "interconnectivity" among communities across Chicago.
In October, the group took a trip to Washington, D.C. where they visited the White House, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, U.S. Capitol, Abraham Lincoln Memorial and the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
In September, the teens learned how to cook a three-course meal from chef Jennifer Gavin, third runner-up on season four of Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen.”
The group has eaten Indian food on Devon Avenue in West Ridge, frozen custard in Edgewater and faced its fears on the Willis Tower Skydeck.
Cole said he wants to keep exposing his group to travel outside Chicago.
“There’s a block and a hood in a city everywhere,” he said.
Cole is hosting the organization's first holiday fundraiser from 6-9 p.m. Thursday at the Silver Room, 1506 W. 53rd St., in Hyde Park. Tickets for the event can be bought at the door. They are $100 and include a hoodie, music, wine and hors d'ouevres.
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