Annual King Drive holiday event expands to bring Chatham cheer around the city: ‘Every neighborhood deserves the sparkle of Michigan Avenue’

In its fifth year, “Be a Part of the Light” hopes to bring the Chatham community’s ethos to the rest of Chicago.

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A street pole decorated with a ribbon during an annual holiday event along King Drive on the South Side of Chicago in 2021.

A street pole decorated with a ribbon during an annual holiday event along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive last year.

Leon Peatry/Provided

Jahmal Cole dreams of a future where all of Chicago sparkles like downtown.

In 2018, Cole began by lighting up the South Side for the holidays, decorating homes and telephone poles along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive with the help of volunteers and members of his nonprofit My Block, My Hood, My City.

Now in its fifth year, the annual event — called “Be A Part Of The Light” — has grown five times over, with about 300 homeowners participating along King Drive plus another 200 elsewhere on the South and West sides.

“Every neighborhood deserves to sparkle like Michigan Avenue,” the 39-year-old said.

Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City, speaks at a peace march and food give-away organized by his nonprofit group in Chicago in 2020.

Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City, speaks at a peace march and food giveaway organized by his nonprofit group in Chicago in 2020.

AP file

The holiday event will run from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Dec. 10. Volunteers will meet at 84th Street and King Drive, where they will be given materials and assigned homes to decorate. Volunteers don’t need to sign up in advance; homeowners interested in participating can register at the nonprofit’s website, www.formyblock.org.

Homeowners can expect to have their home decked out with lights and ribbons and receive an artificial tree, if requested. About 75 homeowners have requested trees so far. Homeowners will also get a gift bag and a $25 voucher for the added utility costs.

The $150,000 price tag on the event was paid for mostly by Aldi and covered two 30-foot trees going up on King at 35th and 84th streets; decorations for homes; and garlands for 500 telephone poles — up from 85 five years ago — along King between 35th and 115th streets.

A child wraps a ribbon around a tree on the South Side as part of an annual holiday event along King Drive in 2021. 

A child wraps a ribbon around a tree on the South Side as part of an annual holiday event along King Drive in 2021.

Leon Peatry/Provided

Putting a tree at 84th and King Drive — in the heart of Chatham — is no accident, Cole said.

The North Chicago native has lived in the South Side neighborhood for 25 years and has since become enamored with its ethos. The event, he said, is a reflection of its values.

“Chatham isn’t a neighborhood but a community, it’s a state of mind. We’re block club associations, entrepreneurs and homeowners, and we organize to make our community better.”

He hopes that by participating in the event, homeowners will be inspired to form block clubs of their own to improve their neighborhoods. “The idea is to bring beauty to broken places.”

Decorations from an annual holiday event along King Drive on the South Side in 2021. 

Decorations from an annual holiday event along King Drive on the South Side in 2021.

Leon Peatry/Provided

“The whole effect is to bring people together,” said Tonya Hook, the president of a Chatham block club association.

The 59-year-old grew up on the South Side and has been volunteering at the event since its inception because it reminds her of the neighborhood as it was in the ’70s.

“It brings us back to gentler and simpler times.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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