Remember being 22 years old? For most, it’s the first year out of college and the first year of experiencing “the real world.”
For Ja’Mal Green, it was the year he decided to run for mayor of Chicago — making history as the youngest person ever to do so.
“I’m just passionate to bring change to the neighborhoods that are most vulnerable in the city of Chicago,” Green, now 24, explained to In The Know. “As I got older, I saw that I was given a gift to be able to help change these communities.”
Green grew up in the neighborhoods of Englewood and Gresham, where he said he witnessed people getting shot and families barely being able to make ends meet. He initially wanted to escape Chicago, but after a classmate of Green’s was killed, he realized he had to stay and help the city change for the better.
“I realized I should stay so that the next generation of kids didn’t have to grow up like I did,” Green said.
At 15, Green led his first peace march. In 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was fatally shot by Chicago PD, which sparked outrage across the city — particularly for Green. He started joining more protests against the city’s mayor and its police department, hoping that real policies would be put into effect that could create positive change.
Four years later, in 2018, Green was frustrated that then-mayor Rahm Emanuel hadn’t taken responsibility for McDonald’s death. That’s why Green decided to run for mayor himself.
“I said it had to be someone who understands the problems in the inner city and went through a lot of what these young people are going through,” Green said. “Even if I did not win — which I didn’t — it would [still] lift the message of the communities that are usually unheard.”
It was never about winning the race for Green, so much as it was about bringing his experiences — which were common to many Black residents in Chicago — to the national stage. That goal, he succeeded in achieving.
Green’s current project is building a 24-hour community center, the first of its kind. It will have mental health facilities, basketball courts, a vertical farm, childcare (including overnight childcare) and classrooms.
“Most violence happens between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. in the city of Chicago. There are many young people who don’t have a place to go — they go to the streets,” Green said. “We want to make sure we open up our doors and provide opportunities for them to come in and get any services that they need — be a real resource center for that community.”
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