Group of friends work to create a greater West Side

Greater Good Foundation mentors young people in Austin and the suburbs

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By Michael Romain


During a press conference on July 5 outside Austin Town Hall, Maywood native Cody K. Cotton stood with Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), civil rights activist Jesse Jackson Sr., and other community leaders to demand that leaders like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle say something about the July 4 weekend.

"We had over 100 people shot in Chicago since Friday," said Boykin, who convened the conference. "I'm totally disappointed that the mayor has yet to make a statement about that fact. Mayor Emanuel didn't say anything, but he tweeted about the Taste of Chicago."

Boykin — whose district covers a significant part of Proviso Township, including Bellwood, Broadview and Maywood — announced that his office will be hosting four State of Emergency meetings in high-violence areas across Chicago. And Jackson announced that he'll be marching in downtown Chicago this Saturday at noon to keep the pressure on city and county leadership.

For Cotton, the co-founder and communication chief of A Greater Good Foundation — a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that offers mentoring services for young people in the western suburbs and Chicago's West Side — every day is a state of emergency.

"This is our state of emergency," Cotton said. "We got started last May, over Memorial Day weekend, when 69 people got shot. We have to get to the root of the problem."

Cotton, who dedicates most of his time to Greater Good while holding down several jobs, said his organization doesn't focus all of their energy on how to stop the violence. Their mission, he said, is much more comprehensive.

"There's a polar opposite to anything. Whatever we give energy to will grow. It can't be all about violence," he said. "It has to be about peace and love, and it has to be a mentality change, a paradigm change.

"You can only do that by reaching kids where they're at. We're trying to reach them through books and things like that. Times have changed. Our kids don't have an intellectual problem; they have an interest problem."

Cotton co-founded Greater Good along with Anthony Garland, Charles Carter and Patrell Green. In just over a year, the organization has formed a 10-member board of directors that includes an Austin, Texas-based CEO, an HR director from Houston and a CEO from Ireland.

Currently, the group works with over 120 young people from sixth grade to college, and offers them community service opportunities, takes them on college tours and hammers out career blueprints for them, among many other services.

"Over the next two years, we plan on reaching 1,500 kids throughout Chicago and the suburbs," said co-founder Carter, who is also the organization's president. "In the next five years, we'll definitely be a citywide organization."

The group is also actively looking to acquire property to create a positive community space between the Austin community and Proviso Township, Cotton said.

"We want it to be a safe and convenient environment for them," he noted. "We'll provide transportation from point A to point B."

For now, the ambitious co-founders said, the goal is to secure funding to help scale up their vision. They had planned on meeting with Boykin later in the week, they said.

"The county has a tremendous amount of resources and the county can do a lot to help organizations like this," Boykin said. "I think this organization provides hope for young men who otherwise wouldn't have it. A person can live about three days without water, they can live about six minutes without oxygen, but you can't live one second without hope."

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