CHATHAM — A documentary chronicling the life of a South Side activist as he traverses the highs and lows of supporting his family and building a nonprofit is now available to viewers.
“A Tiny Ripple of Hope” follows My Block, My Hood, My City founder Jahmal Cole over a period of several months in 2017. The film wrapped up production in 2020, was released last year and is now available to rent or buy on Apple and iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu and XBOX.
Jason Polevoi, co-founder of the Chicago-based production company One City Films and director and producer of the film, said it was important to show a behind-the-scenes look at what life as an activist is truly like once the media’s cameras turn off, Polevoi said.
“It was really important to show who Jahmal really was — the man behind the media darling,” Polevoi said. “It’s not cheap, it’s not free, and he is really sacrificing so much in order to be the man that everyone sees in the media doing these amazing things. I think if people see high-profile activists like Jahmal and assume that it’s easy, that discourages them from taking some of the burdens onto themselves.”
Since filming wrapped, Cole has announced he is running for Bobby Rush’s congressional seat representing much of the South Side.
The film follows Cole as he juggles helping teens grow beyond the harmful stereotypes placed on Black and Brown youth on the South Side with trying to prioritize his family and home. Viewers learn that Cole, while able to pay phone bills for teens in his program, defaults on his mortgage.
Cole, who has since gone through a divorce, said watching the documentary makes him “want to cry.” His intention was to be “as authentic as possible,” but losing his family and home was never the goal.
Cole hopes the documentary paves the way for future activists to make a change, but to be better than him while they do it.
“I would never advocate for anyone to lose their house. Don’t be stupider than me,” Cole said. “What I care about is that people who want to create change in their community watch my documentary and do better than me. It doesn’t matter if there are 10 people watching; I did my job. I don’t care about numbers, I care about 10 people who are true and getting through it.”
And once those future leaders face obstacles, the documentary will hopefully serve as a compass to navigate them wisely while never forgetting your purpose, Cole said.
“If you want to be in this industry and go this way, there will be tribulations and potholes you have to jump around,” Cole said. “Those obstacles let you know you’re going in the right way. If there’s anything I want viewers to know, it’s that those obstacles detoured me, but they didn’t derail me. I’m so happy for all the experiences I had even if they brought me pain because I’m a better person because of it.”
The film also features interviews with rapper and Donda’s House co-founder Che “Rhymefest” Smith, R.A.G.E.’s Asiaha Butler, “The Chi” showrunner Lena Waithe, late Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, Rev. Mike Pfleger of St. Sabina Church and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
In the documentary, Cole asks viewers what simple thing they can do to make a difference in the community.
Polevoi said that’s the message he hopes the audience take with them once they finish the film: small ripples can make big changes.
“If we wait for these big institutional projects to happen where we have to rely on city hall, and the county to make our lives better, we’re going to be waiting a long time,” Polevoi said. “If you can go and help your elderly neighbors by shoveling their sidewalk, that’s a real, tangible difference you’re making. If you can go and pick up trash in your alley, that’s a real, tangible difference.”
Polevoi is exploring more distribution deals for “A Tiny Ripple of Hope” while he continues telling stories that elevate and amplify voices important to him, he said.
“People like Jahmal can’t do it all by themselves,” Polevoi said. “It’s really easy to look at him and others in the community and think, ‘Wow, they’ve got it together. They’re really impressive people. They’re doing the work for me for us.’ And yeah, they are, but we all need to pitch in.”
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: