Jahmal Cole wants to light up Martin Luther King Drive — and he wants your help.
The founder of My Block, My Hood, My City says the street deserves holiday lights on par with what can be seen downtown or in other parts of the city.
“I just want the kids in this area that see blue lights flashing all the time from squad cars to see some blue holiday lights,” Cole said. “I want them to see some solar lights instead of surveillance cameras. … There is a lot of militarization on the South Side right now and we want to replace that with compassion.”
My Block, My Hood, My City will be decorating King Drive with holiday lighting from 71st Street to 95th Street on the next several Saturdays. The event — called “Be A Part Of The Light” — will be broken up into four days, with the first portion of 71st Street to 79th Street receiving its lights this Saturday. The lights will glitter through the Christmas holiday season.
Residential homes that have offered up their property for the event will receive a holiday-inspired makeover. His group will help put up and supply lighting, a wreath and even cut residents a $25 check to cover electricity costs. Volunteers also will help hang ribbons and wrap garland with a battery-powered light around each of the 85 city light polls along King Drive, Cole said.
Still, Cole emphasizes the event is about more than just hanging glittering lights.
“It really goes beyond the lights. At My Block, My Hood, My City, we are all about breaking down barriers that divide our city,” Cole said. “The impact is really about getting people from various neighborhoods across Chicago in one place so they can interact with each other on a human level and build something together.”
Cole said he is inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech about people and things being “interrelated.” He said what ever happens on 55th Street, for example, should also matter to those living along Fullerton Avenue. There is only one Chicago, Cole said, and he is asking residents across the city to join his group in lighting up King Drive.
Cole has done plenty to break down geographical barriers. He has brought kids from the South and West Sides on trips to neighborhoods and venues around the city.
Earlier this week, Cole walked from home-to-home ringing doorbells to help spread the word about the event.
“In order to really fall in love with your community, you have to walk it,” Cole said. “You have to know the neighbors, you have to know the hidden-gem restaurants, you have to know the community groups and that is something that can only happen through real communication with people on the street.”
Tonya Hooks, 58, a member of the 77th Street and King Drive block club, said she is excited about this weekend’s event. She has lived in her Chatham home for nearly 40 years and remembers a time when King Drive was always lit up during the holidays. She hopes this can help Chatham return to its roots.
“Believe it or not, when I was a girl we used to go door-to-door caroling. We used to have a great holiday spirit about us around here,” Hooks said. “This Saturday, people are going to feel the holiday cheer, receive good thoughts and a sense of community. I really like what [Cole] is doing by bringing people from outside of my community and to see for themselves that my neighborhood is more than just crime.”
Casey Merchant, a Logan Square resident, said he has been involved with My Block, My Hood, My City for the last several years because he believes in its mission. Be A Part of the Light, he said, is fulfilling the organization’s most fundamental mission of connecting residents of different neighborhoods and exposing the youth of the South Side to opportunities outside of their community boundaries.
“The lights campaign is just a small way we can create a little more hope and meet each other to overcome common challenges we all face,” Merchant said.
Homeowners and volunteers can sign up on the group’s website at formyblock.org/requestlights. Or volunteers can simply show up anytime from 1-4 p.m. the day of the event, Cole said.
“We need more homeowners along King Drive to participate,” Cole said. “If homeowners want their house lit up they need to sign up, we will provide the light and work with them to put it up.”
Each day will feature free hot cocoa, coffee, food and drinks from local businesses. Holiday music will also be playing.
Here is the schedule and locations for the effort, which takes place from 2-4 p.m. on the following days:
• Saturday, Dec. 1
71st Street to 79th Street
• Dec. 8
80th Street to 87th Street
• Dec. 9
51st Street to 60th Street
• Dec. 15
87th Street to 95th Street
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.