Sticking with education because it is so important to our children, to our lives and to our future, there are a man and a project in Harlem that deserve to join the ranks of those who are changing the world.
Like Sal Kahn, Geoffrey Canada believes in the power of education so much that he has given his life to it. Unlike Kahn, who uses the internet to reach as many people as possible, Canada’s quest is more focused and more personal.
Canada is the man behind The Harlem Children’s Zone Project (HCZ).
Founded 20 years ago as a program to address problems that poor families in this drug-riddled neighborhood were facing — crumbling apartments, failing schools, violent crime and chronic health problems, HCZ grew into a life-changing force.
At the outset, the project centered on classroom education but Geoffrey Canada recognized early that this approach was not working. What they were teaching children inside classrooms just couldn’t counter what those same children learned about in the street, every day — drugs, shooting deaths, dire poverty.
That realization led Canada to look at the whole picture, the child within the community. It also led to expanded efforts to include after school services to kids as well as programs on parenting, early-childhood development, mental health counseling and drug and alcohol counseling for parents and care givers.
Understanding that education alone would not save these children from repeating their parents’ history, one of the primary objectives of the overall project became “…to create a critical mass of adults around them who understand what it takes to help children succeed.”
Dubbed, “…one of the most ambitious social experiments of our time” by the New York Times, The Harlem Children’s Zone Project started with one block in that city; today it covers 100 city blocks and touches the lives of 8,000 children and 6,000 parents.
Based on HCZ’s data that show that it’s impossible to separate education in the classroom from education in the streets, Harlem Children’s Project has also become the template for President Obama’s Promise Neighborhoods program.
Geoffrey Canada is definitely changing the world, one child at a time.
On a personal note, as someone who pays an enormous amount of school taxes, as a person who is in the process of being disenfranchised by the autonomous school board in our district, I will say here, now, that I would gladly pay my school taxes to help support a Promise Neighborhood program.
I would even pay them to support HCZ because I know that the dollars going into these programs help teach children and adults how to live better, healthier lives. The dollars in our district seem to go to larger administration buildings and bigger salaries for the people who work in them.
By they way, if you know a group or an individual that is helping to change our world for the better, please share their story with me so I can share it with my readers.