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Chicagoans Give Up Obama Tickets So West Side Teens Can See Farewell Speech

By Stephanie Lulay | January 9, 2017 4:16pm
 Nabila Ahmed donated her tickets to President Obama's farewell speech to North Lawndale teens through My Block, My Hood, My City.
Nabila Ahmed donated her tickets to President Obama's farewell speech to North Lawndale teens through My Block, My Hood, My City.
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Jahmal Cole; Ramon Forte

CHICAGO — After failing to land coveted tickets to President Barack Obama's farewell speech for his group of teens, Jahmal Cole asked fellow Chicagoans to donate tickets so the teens could see the historic address in person. 

Cole waited five hours for tickets at McCormick Place Saturday but struck out. On Saturday, the My Block, My Hood, My City founder put out the call asking for tickets, and everyday Chicagoans stepped up to the plate.

By Monday afternoon, three North Side women answered the call, donating a total of five tickets to the North Lawndale teens. 

Those women included Nabila Ahmed, who waited in line for hours at McCormick Place and was able to land two tickets to the farewell address. Ahmed originally planned to sell her extra ticket, but she was so moved by Cole's call to action that she decided to donate both tickets — her ticket and the extra ticket — to the cause. 

"I just felt like they probably needed to see it more than I did," Ahmed said. The 27-year-old Edgewater resident works as a violence prevention coordinator at Asian Human Services, so she knows firsthand the need for positive role models to connect with Chicago teens. 

"I would've enjoyed it, but it maybe wouldn't have meant as much to me as it had to them," Ahmed said. 

Residents from Lakeview and Rogers Park also donated, said Cole, a Chatham resident. Seeing women from the North Side step up to help teens from the West Side that they don't know "is what Chicago is all about." 

"It makes me feel good to be a Chicagoan. Chicago's the best city in the world. We all want what's best for our teenagers, our youth in Chicago," Cole said. "They want a better Chicago, and they are willing to play a part in it. We're all in this together." 

Seeing President Obama speak live would be a "transformative" experience for the North Lawndale teens. The teens he works with under-resourced areas not only suffered from “a poverty of finance” but a “poverty of imagination, a deficit of hope,” Cole said.

"It would be like seeing Martin Luther King Jr. or John Kennedy speak. It's history in the making," Cole said. 

He'll be taking kids that include a 15-year-old North Lawndale boy "who has been in trouble at school the last few weeks."

"Students like him feel the most disconnected, these are the students that need it most," Cole said. "We need to change the trajectory of his life."

Chicago residents are donating their tickets to President Obama's farewell speech to North Lawndale teens through My Block, My Hood, My City. [Jahmal Cole]

More tickets needed 

Cole is hoping to take 15 teens from Collins Academy High School in North Lawndale to the historic farewell speech Tuesday night. He has tickets for five so far, but is still accepting donations. 

If you are interested in donating your tickets to My Block, My Hood, My City teens, contact Jahmal Cole at: jcole@mbmhmc.com. Cole is willing to pick up the tickets anywhere in the city, he said. 

Cole also received calls from two former Obama campaign staffers who hoped to donate their tickets, but their tickets couldn't be transfered, he said. 

If the full group isn't able to get in, My Block, My Hood, My City will stream the speech live, but he's hopeful and believes that the North Lawndale teens will be in attendance at the event.

"I think people recognize these teenagers need to go and see Barack Obama speak," Cole said. "If anybody can relate to the plight of these teens, Obama can."

My Block, My Hood, My City takes teens on trips to exploring different neighborhoods in the city, introducing them to new cultures and sights once a month. Among other trips, Cole’s group has taken teens from Englewood to explore Wicker Park, teens from Humboldt Park to explore Edgewater and teens from North Lawndale to explore Greektown. In October, Cole took 17 Chicago teens to Washington D.C.

Cole started the group after speaking with teens at Cook County Jail and hearing them talk about their experiences in Chicago. Many had never been outside of their violence-ridden neighborhoods, Cole said.

“I thought it was tragic they didn’t feel a part of something bigger than the outside of the few block radius in which they live. I knew immediately had to do something about it,” Cole said.

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