GRAND CROSSING — Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City, has written his fifth book — and this one could help Chicago teens go beyond their block and all the way to Africa.
To raise the $47,000 need for the trip to Ghana, Cole on Friday self-published his fifth book, his most personal work, that describes his upbringing on the West Side and how he created his nonprofit, which gets kids off their block to see more of their city and widen their perspectives.
“I want to show that exposure is key to solving the violence,” Cole said. “When I saw that the world didn’t end at the end of my block, it helped me.”
“Exposure Is Key: Solving Violence By Exposing Teens to Opportunities” will be available at Sip and Savor coffeehouse locations. Cole is holding a book release party and fundraiser at 7 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.
Cole’s previous four books were self-help or inspirational books, volumes he would sell on corners Downtown trying to secure speaking gigs at libraries or other events. It was speaking gigs at Cook County Jail that really formed Cole’s central premise, that most teens wrapped in the city’s violence are there because of a false belief that there is little to life available to them outside of their neighborhood.
The idea has caught on with teens, and Cole has gotten glowing profiles from national medial like the “Today” show. The new book explains the daily struggle it still is to keep the nonprofit going and the broken jaw, stolen U-Haul and mounds of rejection letters it took to get there.
“Everyone on the outside thinks I’m rich, but it’s far from it,” Cole said.
And Cole never has been.
Cole said in the book he lays out for the first time his parents’ struggles with drugs and their frequent breakups that would send him off with his father to live in Fort Worth, Texas.
“We didn’t have any money; we slept in the back of a U-Haul truck, but indirectly that was my vacation,” Cole said.
He said those breakups showed him the country in a way other kids on his block had never seen, and his parents’ drug issues taught him responsibility.
“I was always the person my dad gave the money to — even at 12 years old — because I was the responsible one,” Cole said.
He said armed with these experiences and a speaking ability honed from his mother’s insistence that he give lectures on Scripture at church, he was determined to go to college.
He said he stole a college guide from a teacher who refused to give one to him and settled on Wayne State University, a decision his mother called “acting white,” and got his jaw broken by other kids on the block.
Cole said his father stole a rental truck to drive him to college, and they maxed out Cole’s credit cards to get the gas to get to the Detroit campus.
This is the first time Cole has told this part of his story in one of his books, and he said he’s still not sure how people will react when they discover how humble his beginnings were and what a struggle it is to keep his nonprofit going.
The paperback book is available on the My Block, My Hood, My City website, and all proceeds will go to sending 10 kids in his program to Ghana next summer with four chaperones after they graduate from high school.