Community orgs across the city are joining together to bring over a thousand kids Downtown Saturday. Credit: Jahmal Cole

DOWNTOWN — My Block, My Hood, My City is leading an effort to bring 1,000 young people to explore Downtown on Saturday.

My Block, My Hood, My City founder Jahmal Cole is partnering with the Chicago Loop Alliance and other community groups for the massive youth meetup for Chicagoans ages 13-22.

Each participating Chicago kid will get a $50 prepaid “Explorer Card” Credit: Jahmal Cole

Each young person will get a $50 prepaid VISA card they can spend as they choose, whether it’s getting food, going to the movies or touring some of Downtown’s signature attractions like Navy Pier or the Field Museum, Cole said.

The event will be chaperoned by nonprofit organizers, volunteers with My Block, My Hood, My City and community violence interrupters, with coordination with 1st District police, Cole said.

Donations and sponsorships for “Downtown Day” can be made here.

Cole has been taking kids in his youth programs on Downtown trips for over six years. This will be the largest gathering yet, bringing in young people from organizations throughout the city, he said.

Systemic inequality means many kids do not have the means or opportunities to explore parts of the city beyond their own neighborhood, Cole said.

“It’s on us to give them a positive introduction, to change their perception of Downtown so they don’t feel excluded from it,” Cole said. “A lot of kids have never been Downtown before, never gotten a taxi, taken an elevator or been to the top of the Sears Tower. Some see Lake Michigan and ask, ‘Which ocean is that?'”

SailGP teams race on Lake Michigan during the first day of the Rolex United States Sail Grand Prix racing at Navy Pier on June 16, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Large youth gatherings Downtown that turned violent in April led to broad criticisms and crackdowns, including the reintroduction of a Millennium Park teen curfew and other security measures, like bag and ID checks. Police leaders also vowed to bring more officers and police vans Downtown if large groups of young people met again.

Viral videos are an incomplete picture for why young people are “acting out to get our attention,” Cole said.

“We love to blame youth when things go wrong in our communities, which have been divested for decades, with little job opportunities, lack of mental health support, grocery stores pulling out left and right,” Cole said. “We shouldn’t just be left wondering why our kids respond in this way. It’s harder for us to turn inward.”

This weekend’s Downtown meetup is part of the organization’s larger goal to have every Chicago kid experience Downtown by 2025, Cole said.

“One bad news story is not going to stop us from investing in our kids and neighborhoods,” Cole said.

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