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 on 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 donated a total of five tickets to the North Lawndale teens. And as word of their generosity spread, the donated tickets kept coming in, Cole said.
By Tuesday afternoon, Chicagoans from all walks of life — North Siders, South Siders, even an alderman — gave up 15 tickets to benefit the West Side teens. Those who helped included everyday Chicagoans from Edgewater, Lakeview, Rogers Park, Downtown, Hyde Park and Chatham.
Among them was Ald. James Cappleman (46th), who represents parts of Uptown, Lakeview and Wrigleyville. Cole picked up two tickets from him Tuesday morning.
"Ald. Cappleman said Obama is the greatest president in the history of the country, and he really wants to go, but he supports our cause," Cole said.
Nabila Ahmed of Edgewater (left) donated her Obama farewell speech tickets to My Block, My Hood, My City teens. [Jahmal Cole]
Nabila Ahmed of Edgewater also donated. She 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 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.
Cole said the overwhelming generosity of people from the North Side and the South Side who stepped up to help the 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."
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]
Cole planed to take 14 teens from Collins Academy High School in North Lawndale to the historic farewell speech Tuesday night. He is "so thankful" for the donations, he said.
Seeing Obama speak live will be a "transformative" experience for the North Lawndale teens. The teens he works with in under-resourced areas not only suffer 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."
The tickets will help the teens, but the generous gesture also shows something about Chicago, Cole said. Despite the city's national reputation for violence, people are willing to come together to help.
"I'm proud to live in Chicago and want to show people with preconceived notions of the city that it's an amazing place with amazing people," Cole said.
My Block, My Hood, My City takes teens on trips to explore 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.
Chicago residents donated their tickets to President Obama's farewell speech to North Lawndale teens through My Block, My Hood, My City. [Jahmal Cole]
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