My hero is not an individual person that people in the western United States would know. But if you are living in New York, you have heard of this incredibly dedicated human being. It is not for his many awards, books or public recognition that he is most proud of. He has committed his life to enriching the livelihood and future of Harlem’s children. My hero is Geoffrey Canada.
|Geoffrey Canada and Harlem's kids (www.parentsasteachers.org)|
Canada is a graduate of Bowdoin College and the Harvard School of Education, but that is not where his background begins. He is all too familiar with the lives of Harlem’s children because he was once one of them. He grew up in a South Bronx neighborhood and faced many of the same struggles with poverty and education. He saw the downfall of education due to drugs, violence and poverty among the Harlem community. When he returned to Harlem, approximately two-thirds of school children were scoring below their grade level on standardized tests. He saw a need and was determined to save Harlem “block by block, child by child.” If he was able to come back to Harlem with an education, then any child from Harlem could, if only given the opportunity.
|The Harlem's Zone (www.gse.harvard.edu)|
In 1990, Canada became the President and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone. The Harlem Children’s Zone began as a pilot program and a social experiment. Canada collected an astounding amount of private money, approximately $100,000,000, which provided a network of services, such as, social services, education and community-building programs. The program kept a dutiful eye on the result of the program’s effort. In 1994, Canada’s efforts earned him the Heinz Award.
In 1997, the agency launched the Harlem Children's Zone Project, which targets a specific geographic area in Central Harlem with a comprehensive range of services. The class size is about one adult for every six children. The program has science labs that are state-of-the-art, a first-class gym, and a restaurant-style cafeteria. The project today covers 100 blocks and hopes to serve over 10,000 children by 2011.
Canada’s other accomplishments include the Beacon School program, which offers services all year and for 12 hours a day, the co-chair position of a task force designed to reduce the poverty in New York City by New York City Mayor Bloomberg, and he is the East Coast Regional Coordinator for the Black Community Crusade for Children. He has won countless awards, including: the McGraw Prize for Education, the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the Robin Hood Foundation's Heroes of the Year Award, Child Magazine's "Children's Champion" award, the Spirit of the City Award from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Bowdoin College's Common Good Award and New York University's Brennan Legacy Award.
Beyond the education and the notoriety, Canada is my hero because he is a social advocate for issues that surround children and community. He demonstrates that if there is a will, there can be a way. His will is to help less fortunate children and the way is to turn Harlem from drugs, violence, and poverty to a strong, drug-free and safe community by building the community around the pillars of education.
The character pillar that Geoffrey Canada exemplifies is caring. The definition of caring according to the Pillars of Character is be kind; be compassionate and show you care; express gratitude; forgive others; help people in need. Canada is giving back to a place that he once called his home. He cares about the Harlem community enough that he has made it his career to make it a better place. He is helping those in need by opening the doors to endless possibilities and goals.