Chicago’s youth are our future. Shedd’s partner organization My Block My Hood My City is working to broaden horizons for Chicago teens, introduce them to new experiences and perspectives and leave them feeling a sense of ownership, pride and hope for the future.
As we continue to commemorate Black History Month, we asked Ashley Morris, liaison for My Block My Hood My City at North Lawndale College Prep High School, and high school junior and student explorer Morgan Greenfield about M3’s impact.
See what they had to say.
Shedd: Can you tell me about the work you do with My Block My Hood My City (M3)?
Ashley: I became a liaison for M3 about 4 years ago. I recruit students into the program and go with them on field trips, what we call explorations, across Chicago. We have about 30 students involved from two campuses at North Lawndale College Prep High School, and we do everything from going ice skating, seeing plays, working in community gardens, visiting businesses like jewelry stores and restaurants, visiting universities, museums and cultural institutions like Shedd, doing community service projects and more.
Shedd: What were your favorite explorations with M3?
Morgan: I really liked kayaking with Kayak for Conservation on the Chicago River. I also liked learning about computer science and the medical field on a college tour.
Shedd: What did you learn on your visit with Shedd’s coral research team?
Morgan: We got to help add corals to a growing coral reef and learn about how they reproduce. I learned that coral reefs are delicate and sensitive, and a lot can harm them. Some of the corals we worked on are now on display in Wild Reef.
Ashley: That experience was cool because they saw people who work at Shedd doing real science and taking actions that matter to the environment. They got to go behind the scenes and look down at the animals in the water, which is a totally new perspective. The kids told me they want to learn how to dive now!
Shedd: What is most fulfilling for you about connecting students with M3?
Ashley: Seeing their faces and the light behind their eyes when they get excited and experience something they normally wouldn’t have access to is most fulfilling for me. It’s thrilling to hear them ask, “How can I do more of this? How can I apply this to my life?”
This is not just any afterschool program. M3 invests a lot into these kids to help them become well-developed humans, explore careers and make connections beyond their neighborhoods.
Shedd: What challenges do students face in their everyday lives that programs with M3 help to alleviate?
Ashley: After school, our students can get robbed or shot walking home. Some of our students are homeless or facing food insecurity. By them being with M3 after school, they avoid violence, they get fed and M3 will drop them off at their doors after an exploration. M3 even provided our school families with Christmas gifts around the holidays. M3 gives the students a focus and opens up opportunities; it gives these students something to work toward and keeps them out of trouble and away from making bad decisions.
Shedd: What do you like most about being a part of M3?
Morgan: I like learning new things. They bring me to see that new things are possible, especially things I wouldn’t get to experience by myself. It also gives me something to take my mind off the violence in my community.
Shedd: What do you look forward to most about continuing to partner with M3?
Ashley: I’m just excited about the new opportunities M3 continues to provide. They’re looking into more scholarship opportunities and out-of-state explorations like camping in California or skiing in Michigan, more activities to get them out of their neighborhoods.
I hope that M3 can continue to be at our high school and expand to other schools. I also wish more businesses and organizations like Shedd want to get involved and expose these kids to new possibilities.
Shedd: What are your goals for the future?
Morgan: I am planning on going to college to be a veterinarian. I’ve always loved animals and have had pets like a dog and two turtles. My dream is to take care of all kinds of animals, pets and animals in zoos and aquariums, in the future.