Jahmal Cole is a tireless volunteer and role model. An advocate for education reform in Chicago, Jahmal is passionate about improving schools and is a frequent speaker at colleges in the Chicagoland area. Jahmal is the author of The Torch of Decency: Rekindling the Spirit of Community Organizations, “Athletes & MC’s” and “50 Excuses: to not Follow your Dreams.”
Recognized for his contributions to the community, he is the recipient of many awards, including a 2012 Certificate of Appreciation from Governor Pat Quinn, 2012 Chicago Ideas Award Winner presented by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, 2013 Scion Motivate Winner presented by Toyota, 2013 John Lennon Song Writing Grand Prize Award Winner, 2013 Cook County Juvenile Detention Center Volunteer Award. 2016 Roberto Clemente Global Health Award, 2016 Chicago Urban League Innovator Award 2017 Outstanding Commitment to Community Service Award on behalf of State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, and 2017 Mazda Drive for Good Competition Winner and 2017 Bluhm Helmand Social Innovation Fellow. 2018 Chicago Defender Men of Excellence Honoree, 2018 Chicago City Council Resolution Award recipient. 2018 he was named one of the “20 Most Inspiring Chicagoans” by Streetwise Magazine. 2018 named a Chicagoan of the Year by Chicago Magazine. He was appointed as honorary chair of State of Black Chicago Steering Committee by Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court and named one of Huffington Post’s 15 Inspiring Chicagoans. Most recently, he has successfully launched a groundbreaking social initiative entitled “My Block, My Hood, My City, where he takes teenagers from underserved Chicago communities on City Wide explorations.
Cynthia Alfaro is known to many for her calm and cool personality, Cynthia is a woman on a mission to help people live better lives. As a teenager, she was a nationally ranked tennis athlete. Since then, she has always been intrigued with “winning” on the court and off, specifically what works in helping people achieve their highest potential. She found her way into a Finance degree after an injury sidelined her tennis career indefinitely and her heart for social work wasn’t paying her school loans back quick enough. Yet, after a semester away living in Mexico City, Cynthia was determined to do something immediately to make a difference in her world. After a year long apprenticeship with an Americorps group called Public Allies Chicago, a program made to groom the next generation of community leaders, her Finance career was halted by the impact of 9/11. Focused to win, Cynthia successfully pivoted again by entering into an up-and-coming field of Human Resources. She studied Finance and Human Resources from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and proceeded to work in a fast-paced entrepreneurial corporate environment at Pepsi Co, winning the respect and support of executives and frontline employees. Still on a mission to do more social good, Cynthia transitioned into the education sector, stepping into her true passion for training and development. It was at the New York City Department of Education that she supported the alternative schools’ superintendent, cabinet and principals on building their capacity as leaders. After starting a young family, Cynthia joined the leadership team of a popular dual-language progressive school in Washington Heights and helped manage the school, while raising her two daughters in New York. Shortly after, her need to be closer to home and family, brought her to Chicago where she quickly applied her business and education skills to the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) as a School Finance Manager and then changed lanes to Development to gain exposure to non-profit fundraising. Cynthia is currently serving as the Chief Operating Officer at M3, where her HR, operations, finance and development experience are being fully utilizing and her dream of making Chicago a better place is being fulfilled. In her spare time, she teaches family fitness classes, volunteers with her daughters, supports moms through her Moms Winning empowerment blog and offers community workshops to help people live their best lives.
Casey Merchant is a community advocate, organizer, and program manager for My Block, My Hood, My City. Born and raised on Chicago's North Shore and graduating with a B.A. in Urban and Regional Planning from UIUC. Casey spent years working in grassroots advocacy and on candidate campaigns around Chicago. Pursuing a range of interests he continued on to manage data for a digital organizing firm, and freelancing photo and design work. Casey has an entrepreneurial spirit, a passion for social justice, and broad range of experiences that make him a perfect fit for managing and developing program operations.
Ramon Forte has been with Jahmal Cole since 2010, and he currently serves as the Dean of Students. He is responsible managing and implementing our engaging exploration program in an effort to ensure a positive living-learning experience for our students. Prior to this appointment Forte served as a program manager and photographer where his images have been published via CNN and the Washington Post. He plays a pivotal role in helping My Block, My Hood, My City achieve one of its fundamental goals, educating students through experiential learning and cultural immersion.
Forte is a life long Chicagoan and graduate of Dunbar High School on Chicago’s South Side. He’s been actively involved in community organizing and civic engagement for the past eight years.