At the closing session of the 2011 Orange Conference, Reggie Joiner sat down with Geoffrey Canada for a chat about his childhood and how that shaped his passion for the younger generation today.
When asked about the idea behind his movie Waiting for Superman:
Geoffrey talks about how he grew up in the south Bronx, where most people wouldn’t be caught dead. He realized something was wrong with his neighborhood. As an avid reader, he also enjoyed comic books, where the good guys always won. That kept him going. When his mother told him Superman was not real, that shattered his heart, because there was no superhero coming to save them. After he left, he went to Harvard, but then decided to come back. His goal was to make sure no kid grew up thinking no one cared.
When asked about the thoughts behind his book Reaching Up for Manhood:
There is a concept of forgiveness that many boys do not grow up knowing. If no one forgives you, you don’t know how to reconcile what you have done. You become bad and proud that you are bad. The idea of forgiveness was not known to Geoffrey as a child. In his area, kids grew up thinking they had to be bad. Forgiveness was a concept most kids did not know.
The most powerful force in a child’s life is a caring adult. Children need to feel love from someone that has no hidden agenda. Growing up, Geoffrey and his friends wondered if anyone really cared. There is this affirmation that a kid can get from another adult that they may not be able to get from their family. Kids need to understand when you are upset, but they also need to know that you are not giving up on them.
As a teenager, Geoffrey drifted away from the church when he was a teenager, even though he spent a lot of time at the church growing up. It was because the church was filled with people who believed the world out there was crumbling because they chose to be like that. That upset Geoffrey that the church did not do anything to go out and reach them and show them there is something better. He saw the church as something that was too focused on the ones inside. Geoffrey was upset that the church did not go out and help others know how following Christ provided a better life. In addition, he and his friends hardly saw the church living out what they talked about. It took him a while before he could come back around to being a part of the church.
When asked what Geoffrey would tell church leaders, he stated, “If church leaders do not do it, no one is going to do it.” As Christians, if we believe that children have a chance, we have to go out and prove it.
Superman never showed up for Geoffrey, but there was a guy named Mike that decided to Geoffrey was worth it. He stood up for him, and he wanted to save Geoffrey. After he goes off to college, Mike got arrested for shooting a handgun and was put in jail for 20 years. Geoffrey ended up helping Mike get out of jail. What he found out was that Mike did for several other kids what he did for Geoffrey. Now, those kids are passing that on to other kids from the street.
In closing, Geoffrey stated that we all need someone to pave the way for us, giving us hope and love, and we need to pass that along.
Geoffrey Canada has a radical new idea: if you really want to change the lives of inner-city kids, change everything all at once—their schools, families, and neighborhoods. As President and CEO of the revolutionary Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, he has dedicated the past 20 years of his life to helping the most impoverished, at-risk youth beat the odds. Radically ambitious and startlingly simple, Canada’s programs are on the cutting edge of preventing youth violence and fostering community development.
What Canada has done for a 24 block neighborhood in Harlem has been groundbreaking, replicated in communities across the country. Through programs such as the Beacon School, Community Pride Initiative, Harlem Gems, Harlem Peacemakers, and the Promise Academy, a new generation of charter school, he has developed a network of services that reach most of the 6,500 children and their families living in the Harlem Children’s Zone.
The acclaimed author of Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America and Reaching Up for Manhood, Canada is also East Coast Coordinator for the Black Community Crusade for Children.
Canada knows inner-city life firsthand. Having grown up in the South Bronx, he went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Recently, Canada was honored with the prestigious McGraw Prize for education. In his vibrant, hands-on presentation, he teaches communities about improving the lives of today’s youth, one child at a time.
Geoffrey’s Blog: www.hcz.org/about-us/about-geoffrey-canada/144