CHATHAM — Longtime activist Jahmal Cole is looking to replace Rep. Bobby Rush in the district he’s represented in Congress for nearly three decades.
Cole, the founder of My Block, My Hood, My City, filed for candidacy with the Federal Election Commission last week, seeking the House seat representing Illinois’ 1st District. He called it a special moment and “one of the most American things I’ve done.”
The 1st District includes several South Side neighborhoods and southwest suburbs.
Rush has filed in the race, according to records, but he did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The election is in November 2022. Joliet pastor and entrepreneur Glenda Wright-McCullum also had filed but told Block Club she’s now running for Joliet’s at-large council seat instead.
Cole, a 37-year-old South Side organizer and author, has been an outspoken advocate for social justice. His nonprofit helps teens from low-income neighborhoods explore other parts of the city and has helped neighbors and small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.
Last week, My Block, My Hood, My City helped seniors clear snow with volunteer support. The group has organized snow-shoveling drives for years, but as Chicago experienced its snowiest stretch in more than 40 years, more than 100 volunteers came together to help shovel more than 200 homes across the city.
Cole’s received numerous awards and recognitions throughout the city and most recently was named one of the 25 Most Powerful Chicagoans by Crain’s Magazine and named the New Power 30 by Chicago Magazine.
This is Cole’s first foray into politics. He wants to run for Congress to be a voice for South Side and southwest suburban communities he said have long been ignored by the federal government and stifled from a lack of resources.
“There need to be more people like me willing to run for office and in positions of power,” Cole said. At My Block, My Hood, My City “we have helped out thousands of people, [but] my nonprofit exists because of failed policies and a lack of resources in the neighborhood.”
Cole called Rush, 74, a role model but said it’s “time for old folks to step aside and for fresh blood that’s more in touch with the reality of today” to lead the charge. And with younger, more progressive politicians entering Congress, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood, he said there is a new vibrancy at the federal level needed to restore faith and confidence with constituents.
“There’s a cadence of young voices going on that want to step up to the call,” he said. “I want to be part of that change and unite the country.”
Cole has lived in Chatham since 2007 but grew up in suburban Waukegan, at times bouncing around homeless shelters and motels. Despite watching his father struggle and growing up in poverty, he learned to be optimistic and proud, he said.
Cole said his father inspired him to run for political office and he wants to pay it forward by being a role model for his own children, inmates in federal and state prison, and the community he’s served for more than a decade.
Cole said he wants to bring more jobs, training opportunities and better access to health care, housing and education to the district and build off his success from his nonprofit.
“As I look around the South Side of Chicago, I see the same things I saw when I was growing up: You see poverty, boarded up homes, 15 liquor stores and currency exchanges but no banks in the neighborhood,” Cole said. “We deserve a lot better.
“I am running on behalf of people who feel marginalized for too long. I am doing it at a national level that hasn’t done a lot for the communities I am representing.”
It’s not the first time an activist has run against Rush. In 2020, Robert Emmons Jr. ran for the 1st District seat but lost in the Democratic state primaries in March. Emmons, 28, is the executive director of Our Everyday PAC, an Obama Foundation alumnus and a national board member for One Goal, which helps low-income students get into college.
Cole said Emmons’ campaign inspired him to run in the 2022 election.
Rush has held his Congress seat since 1993, making him the longest-serving member of the House in Illinois’ congressional delegation. He’s also an Army veteran, a pastor and an ordained minister.
Cole said he is excited to run for Congress despite Rush’s long political history.
“It will be an uphill battle, but I’m prepared to put whatever armor I got on and take on the challenges ahead of me and [show] the people of the 1st District what I am about,” Cole said.
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