Featuring Ernesto Gonzalez, marketing manager/media relations for M3

Courtesy Ernesto Gonzalez

Q: Tell us a little bit about My Block My Hood My City!

Ernesto Gonzalez: Where to start, huh? My Block My Hood My City (or M3 for short) is a nonprofit organization here in the city of Chicago that has two distinct focuses. The first one is working with youth throughout the city to introduce them to opportunities, cultures, and experiences through our Explorers Program. We take approximately 150 youth to different explorations around the city and sometimes around the country! We strongly believe that when you show youth better, they do better.

Our second focus is community engagement. This is where we work with block clubs and community organizations/partners to assist and strengthen their projects. Whether it’s helping block clubs become more self-sufficient through our trainings or working with other community organizations to create an even bigger experience, our goal is to serve the communities in divested parts of the city according to their needs.

Q: Let’s talk about the youth outreach portion of your work; how did that start and how can people reading get involved?

EG: The Explorer Program is truly the genesis of M3. Our founder/executive director, Jahmal Cole, was volunteering at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, and realized that a lot of the youth there had a lack of experiences. Their perception of life outside their own neighborhood was dismal. So Jahmal decided to reach out to high schools and work with them and take these youth to explorations. Now in order to make these explorations happen, we rely on companies that are willing to open their doors and expertise to our youth. If you have an interesting job or work at a company that offers internships, reach out to us!

Q: That’s amazing! It truly feels that M3 has their hands in many different projects here in the city. With the holiday season approaching, I know that My Block My Hood My City has a big event coming up—can you tell us a little bit about that?

EG: On December 4 we will kick off our 4th annual “Be a Part of the Light” initiative, which, in short, is a great way for all of Chicago to come together on 55th and King Drive and help light up hundreds of homes. The south side of the city has historically been overlooked, and during the holiday season it is comparably less festive than other parts of the city. We want to break that norm and show families and youth that live in the area that they deserve the lights and festivities that other parts of the city get. 

When Jahmal started this initiative back in 2018, he took a leap of faith and decided to start this on one block on King Drive. With the help of small donations from all across the world and people coming from all over the city (and beyond) to help out, this initiative has grown from one small block to covering all of King Drive from 35th to 115th! M3 is dedicated to decorating hundreds of homes and light poles throughout this stretch. 

We say this a lot here at M3: “Help a Neighbor.” M3 can also be seen as the bridge that brings the whole city together, and what better way to do that than the holiday season. When we do events we usually do them in neighborhoods that are less frequented by Chicagoans. We believe that the best way to create a safer city is to bring it together and create a more interconnected city. Whether you live in Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, Pilsen, or Chatham, we can all come together for a day of service and fun. 

Q: This all sounds amazing and we can only imagine the amount of work needed to pull this off. Tell us, how can people help?

EG: Simple, there are three ways to help us this holiday season. We are still asking to get more homeowners signed up to get their houses decorated. You can also sign up to volunteer on our kickoff or on the 11th of December to decorate said houses. Lastly, if you can, please donate to the initiative. Whether it’s monetary or through our wishlist, any contribution that you give is both appreciated and needed to truly bring out the best experience for the south side of the city. You can do this and much more on our website at www.ForMyBlock.org.

We like to leave people with one simple question, and that is: “What’s something simple I can do that will have a positive impact on my block?” We advocate for people to step out of their comfort zone and be the change they want to see. It all starts on the block level and anyone can do it. Whether you live in an apartment building or in a residential neighborhood, get to know those who live near you and you will organically create a safer, tight-knit community. Thank you all for your time and we hope to see y’all out there with us on December 4.

Courtesy Ernesto Gonzalez

This is a sponsored content series, paid for by Green Thumb Industries. Learn more about My Block My Hood My City at formyblock.org. Submit YOUR questions on expungement and community engagement to socialequity@gtigrows.com.

Click here to view all articles in the GTI expungement series.