‘Downtown Day’ gives kids a chance to explore Chicago’s attractions, with some cash to spend

Jahmal Cole, founder and CEO of My Block, My Hood, My City, said many participants have never visited downtown’s famous sites although they only live a few miles away.

SHARE ‘Downtown Day’ gives kids a chance to explore Chicago’s attractions, with some cash to spend

My Block, My Hood, My City CEO and founder Jahmal Cole organized Downtown Day to give 1,000 youths from the South and West sides a chance to enjoy Chicago’s attractions. | Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Annie Costabile

Young people from the South and West sides will have a chance to explore all that downtown has to offer this weekend with some money in their pockets.

My Block, My Hood, My City, a nonprofit community organization focused on providing a wide variety of opportunities to the city’s youth, will bring about 1,000 young people ages 13 to 22 downtown on Saturday and give them $50 to spend on activities and food.

Jahmal Cole, the founder and CEO of My Block, My Hood, My City, said while many of the kids participating live only a few miles from downtown, many have never visited the museums, walked the lakefront trail or taken an architecture tour.

“We’re inviting 1,000 kids downtown because we realized how many people haven’t been downtown, or have been downtown but without any money to spend,” Cole said. “And they’ll get 50 bucks to do what they want.”

My Block, My Hood, My City partnered with several businesses and attractions, which will offer discounted or free opportunities to participants. Those partners include the Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium, Skydeck Chicago, Navy Pier, City Hall, Wendella Tours and Millennium Park.

“It’s a chance for kids who have never had a chance to explore downtown, given how expensive it is. We don’t want them to feel excluded, and this is a pass to do what they want to do,” Cole said. “We’re showing kids what’s possible with enough money in their pockets to enjoy their city’s downtown.”

The day, which will go from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., allows the kids to choose their own adventure. They’ll start and end their day at Harris Theater and will have a map on their phones showing them all the participating businesses they can visit. Chaperones from community organizations from across the city will accompany the participants.

The organization raised $50,000 to cover the kids’ spending money. They’re also working with the Magnificent Mile Association, the Chicago Loop Alliance and the Chicago Police Department’s 1st District for the event.

“This Downtown Day initiative helps show how the Loop is truly everyone’s neighborhood, filled with iconic architecture, art, culture, shopping and history that make our world-class city unique,” Michael Edwards, president and CEO of Chicago Loop Alliance, said in a statement.

The goal is to provide opportunities for kids to safely enjoy the Loop area, especially after recent incidents involving large gatherings of young people with some engaging in criminal activity, including a melee in the Loop in April.

“We like to blame our youth when things go wrong in our community, but they are being made scapegoats. They’re from the communities that haven’t been invested in, where it’s not safe, where grocery stores are leaving,” Cole said.

“They’re acting out to get our attention. How can we leave these neighborhoods in such a state? No wonder they’re acting out.”

Going forward, Cole said he hopes to continue growing the funding for the annual downtown event to help more kids participate and get more businesses involved.

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