August 24, 2014

Canada: 'You can make a difference'

July 28, 2014 – Geoffrey Canada, creator of the Harlem Children's Zone and a figure in the documentary "Waiting for Superman," drew a standing ovation Friday after an hour-long NAFCU Annual Conference address on challenges facing today's youth and how one person can help make a difference for a generation.

Canada grew up in Harlem and thought there was no other place on earth that was worse for drugs, crime and general decay. Kids rarely got out of the area, and they more rarely attended college. He found those conditions were more widespread as he looked outside, so he set out to change what defined "normal" in those communities.

To do that, he created Harlem Children's Zone. The HCZ encompassed 97 blocks in Harlem to receive social work support and health support. "All the kids in this area, [these] we are going to save," he said. "We had only one expectation … go to college." So far, he said, 950 kids have done just that. They changed what was "normal."

Canada cited numerous statistics about how bad things are for kids in poverty-stricken areas – no community support, widespread drug use and a policy of incarcerating youth rather than investing in their success – and how these things threaten the country's future.

However, he also talked about how the encouragement he received growing up – from his football coach and later a math instructor in college – drove him to achieve goals he didn't believe were within his reach.

He said the folks in Friday's general session audience are equipped now to make that kind of a difference in a kid's life. "You don't have to run a school. You don't have to teach a class. Should you personally reach out and guarantee a couple of young people are going to be successful?" he posed. "Are you going to mentor a young person? … I think you have to do that if we are going to save our country."