Jahmal Cole Credit: My Block, My Hood, My City

CHICAGO — Organizer Jahmal Cole gave a rousing speech to a statewide audience Saturday as he encouraged young people throughout Illinois to set goals to make it through the pandemic.

Cole was invited by Gov. JB Pritzker to speak at a Saturday press conference because of his work as the founder of My Block, My Hood, My City. The South Side-based group typically takes teens from low-income neighborhoods for explorations around the city, and it’s gotten attention from notables like President Barack Obama.

But the group has pivoted during the pandemic to help as many people as possible, Pritzker said. My Block, My Hood, My City has done things like collect cleaning supplies for people in need and set up a calling network to check in on elderly residents.

Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City, is collecting supplies to help people during the coronavirus outbreak. Credit: Provided

But Saturday, Cole said people everywhere need to focus not just on what’s happening now but on what we’ll do — for ourselves and each other — after the pandemic.

“It seems this pandemic has shown such a bright light on so many injustices,” Cole said. “How are we ensuring we’re helping people in the long run?”

Cole said children and teens in Chicago have been struggling; they’ve grown used to gun violence, accept they can die and live with mental trauma. Now, they and others are also experiencing PTSD from coronavirus, he said.

“Kids in Chicago don’t have hope right now. They don’t feel safe,” he said. “You can’t create when you don’t feel safe. You can’t be dope when you don’t have hope.

“We need hope in this state.”

That hope can come from setting goals now to get you through the pandemic and keep you progressing once the crisis is over, Cole said.

Cole pointed to a party held on the West Side last week as an example: The host made up a flier that attracted hundreds of people to the Galewood party — so why not use those graphic design skills for something else?

Adults should focus on helping young people create goals that will lead them away from bad choices rather than telling kids what to do, Cole said.

“Having goals will change everything for you,” he said. “Things are serious right now. Coronavirus don’t care if you from downstate Illinois, it don’t care if you’re from North Side, South Side, West Side or over east.

“… But while you all are home, I want you all to set some goals and do something with your life. Because when this pandemic is over, and it’s gonna be over, if you’ve already got goals then you’ve already got a roadmap to what you need to be doing.”

Pritzker praised Cole for the emotional speech.

“That’s incredibly inspirational and, frankly, I’d like to take you around the state with me when we can because there are an awful lot of people who need to hear that message,” Pritzker said. “Thank you.”

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