Jahmal Cole (CLA'20)

As a part of Harris Public Policy’s celebration of Black History Month, we asked members of the Harris community to share their perspective on Black History Month and the importance of Black voices in public policy. These are their opinions and perspectives, informed by their own life experiences and worldviews (and do not necessarily reflect the views of Harris).

The word “policy” makes me cringe. The history of the word “policy” affects me when I hear it spoken. Maybe it’s not the word itself but the tone I’m accustomed to hear it spoken in – it makes me feel excluded, lower than who’s speaking it, controlled, no wiggle room.

“That’s a nice young boy you got there. If I were any younger I’d kill him.” That’s what the bus driver in Ft. Worth, Texas, said to my father when I was six years old. That’s what the word “policy” reminds me of, it triggers that feeling because our country’s policies let people like him get away with murder. It’s said with the same accent of racism, it’s spoken from a hilltop of arrogance. There’s no stuttering with it either, just absoluteness.

That word policy is the reason Jason Van Dyke is walking free after he murdered Laquan McDonald, shooting him 16 times. Laquan’s own grandmother told me that he also had tire marks on his body. That Qualified Immunity Policy gave Van Dyke the guts, the backbone, the support he needed to squeeze the trigger 16 times. Where was policy then? He hid behind it like a Klan mask.

Policy is the most American buzzword of them all. It’s Mayweather elusive too. People act as if you need to be accepted into law school to understand policy. Hell no, the community is my classroom and I was born knowing how to say “ouch, this hurts me.” Your policies are hurting me.

Failed policies are the reason the projects in Chicago were torn down, displacing so many people without a plan. They’re the reason we don’t have the same food, the same schools or the same resources as the white people on the North Side. Ouch, those policies hurt people.

I used to think that lack of healthcare, no counselors in schools, so many currency exchanges in the neighborhood, all these boarded up homes – I used to say these aren’t poor people problems, these are policy problems. I felt so smart saying that because policy people accepted it. They smiled and I felt accepted. That statement is true, but it’s deeper than that. It’s deeper than just policy. I’m running for US Congress to strike a blow to the moral issues we face in the country. Our US budget is created by folks that haven’t even apologized. If you can’t apologize first, then you shouldn’t be making policy.

Policies without equity (which seems to be another buzzword) is a set up. Policy is privilege. It’s protection against acknowledging hurt. It’s a barrier to healing.

People are running for office trying to change policy. I’m running to get an apology. Once we have that understanding, then we can move forward in making equitable policies.

About Jahmal Cole (CLA'20) 

Jahmal Cole founded My Block, My Hood, My City in 2014. The nonprofit takes teenagers from low-income neighborhoods on field trips throughout the city and provides technical training and laptops to support neighborhood block clubs. It also has organized an army of volunteers to decorate Martin Luther King Drive with Christmas lights and to clear snow from the homes of the elderly in Chatham. He is also a candidate for U.S. Congress.

Jahmal holds a BA in Communications from Wayne State College and an MS in Internet Marketing from Full Sail University.