The social justice group My Block, My Hood, My City hosted a 24-hour Survival Summit to prep young men for the potential perils of a Chicago summer.
“How do you think violence is going to be this summer?” Jahmal Cole, founder of the organization, asked the full room.
He answered: “It’s going to be the same as it is every summer here — hot!”
Cole wasn’t referencing rising temperatures but rather its violence. And Cole insisted the summit’s physical, mental and emotional training would equip the young men to peacefully handle unexpected encounters — with peers or police — that could lead to violence.
The free summit geared for young men ages 13 to 21 kicked off at the John Hancock’s 360 Chicago Observation Deck on Tuesday morning in large part due to the nonprofit’s past work.
My Block, My Hood, My City has been leading an effort to expose youth in Chicago to different parts of the city. The group has organized free snow removal in the winter, helped light up King Drive for Christmas and brought students to the Chicago Bears’ practice facility.
Most of the summit’s participants were signed up by parents looking for positive mentorship for their kids. After years of community work, Cole gets requests to mentor youths a lot. This sparked the idea to have full day of training for young men.
From 8 a.m. Tuesday through 8 a.m. Wednesday, there was basic training in boxing — to release pent-up energy — and peace circles that create safe spaces for participants to discuss emotional issues they’re working through.
Ryan Collier, 13, said he was hesitant to go because he didn’t know what to expect, but after some convincing from his mother he decided to give it a try.
“I’ve never been this high up or have even stepped into the [John Hancock] Building,” Collier said. “It’s been a good experience so far.”
Collier said his favorite part was the “know-your-rights” training, which taught the young men how to properly interact with police officers in different kinds of settings like walking home or while driving a car. It also gave them some basic legal advice.
For Paulo Walker, 17, just being around like-minded people was satisfying.
“I am always just trying to surround myself with some positive energy,” Walker said. “It is great to be around so many people that are showing off that positivity.”
And in typical My Block, My Hood, My City fashion, the summit allowed for these young men to explore a part of the city they normally wouldn’t.
Besides staying the whole night inside of the observation deck, they also visited the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E Chicago Ave., and took a walk along the lakefront.
The summit ended with a cooking demonstration, an open mic for poetry reading and a movie screening.
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South and West sides.