SLAMDANCE 2021 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Community organizer and activist Jahmal Cole is someone who makes you want to drop what you’re doing, run out, and be a better person. In the face of the overwhelming negativity and hardship present in the world, it is heartwarming to know that people like Cole exist. A Tiny Ripple of Hope, the moving documentary, directed by Jason Polevoi, focusing on Jahmal Cole and his Chicago-based community youth organization, My Block, My Hood, My City, documents a year in the life of the group Cole founded and runs like his life depends on it.
Not many people can do what Jahmal Cole has done and continues to do for the youth of Chicago’s notoriously rough South Side. These kids are confronted with very few options in life simply due to their socio-economic station. Cole seeks to show these kids – Explorers – that there is more to aspire to in life than to be a basketball player or a rapper. Once these kids step outside of their comfort zones, Cole hopes they will discover a world waiting to embrace their successes.
In an effort to diffuse the rampant segregation that casts a shadow over the otherwise rich cultural city, Cole organizes educational field trips for his Explorers. In doing so, Cole aims to expose them to heretofore-unknown opportunities and communities.
“…focusing on Jahmal Cole and his Chicago-based community youth organization, My Block, My Hood, My City…”
The amount of energy and dedication that Cole brings to his cause and his role as mentor to many of his Explorers (a few of whom are profiled along with Cole) is nothing short of astounding. So enmeshed in community activism is Cole that he doesn’t even know what it means to be an activist anymore: it’s second nature. In Cole’s own words, “I’m more motivated to do stuff for other people than myself.”
While A Tiny Ripple of Hope incorporates a hefty roster of talking-head interviews, none of them occupies too much time as to detract from accompanying Cole as he meets with his small team of organizers, attends the occasional dinner, and even stands on a Chicago sidewalk soliciting volunteers for his organization. All of the interviewees speak to the man’s devotion to his city and to the kids and families whose lives he has had such a profound impact on. Luminaries such as Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe testify to the dramatic work that Cole is doing that enriches the lives of his Explorers while also commenting on the segregation in Chicago and the violent perception of young African-American Chicagoans.
Cole confesses that due to the demands of his work, he oftentimes neglects his responsibilities as a husband and father. Yet, his drive to help others isn’t so much a calling as it is an inherent characteristic, as present in his DNA as his winning smile and athletic build. Nevertheless, there may be those who begrudge Cole, as is seen when he finds himself the target of a drive-by shooting (he gets away). This shocking moment, coming as it does about halfway through the film after Cole’s saviorhood has clearly been established, makes you angry that anyone would want to deny Chicago a person like Jahmal Cole (it’s never established if he was, indeed, the intended target).
A Tiny Ripple of Hope is an inspiring profile of a dedicated changemaker, showcasing the gritty milieu and uncompromising circumstances that Jahmal Cole and his Explorers traverse each and every day. The work of Cole calls to mind that of Nasrin Sotoudeh, the Iranian activist-attorney who has made it her life’s work to improve the lives of women in her country. That angels such as these exist in a world that is ever more harsh and unkind gives me a tiny ripple of hope that kindness and heart will ultimately save the day.
A Tiny Ripple of Hope screened at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.