The National Civil Rights Museum has honored long-time education pioneer Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), as one of its 2013 Freedom Award recipients.
“In their careers, each of the honorees has been engaged in shaping a culture and ultimately defining important aspects that drove change,” said Beverly Robertson, president of the National Civil Rights Museum. “It is particularly timely to honor and hear from Geoffrey Canada who has instituted a new model for educating inner city youth that’s being emulated nationwide. We all could stand to listen and learn from the extraordinary lives of our honorees and the examples they have set.”
For more than 20 years, Canada’s focus has been on positively changing the lives of inner-city youth both inside and outside of the classroom.
"I have always felt that educating African-American children so they can have a real shot at the American Dream has been one of the last unfilled legacies of the Civil Rights Movement, so this award is a deeply felt honor for me and for everyone at the Harlem Children’s Zone," Canada told The Network Journal.
A champion of education reform for decades, Canada grew up in the South Bronx section of New York City. The obstacles he faced led him to become passionate about helping children get to the next level.
In 1974, he held a faculty position at the Robert White School, an alternative high school for at-risk youth in Boston, Mass. Three years later, he became director. From there, he returned to his home state of NY and became education director, and eventually president, for the Rheedlen Center. While there, he opened his first martial arts school, the Chang Moo Kwon Tai Kwon Do Club. Martial Arts helped him teach children about conflict resolution and violence reduction. He soon developed a reputation for devising creative ways to engage abused or neglected children.
Today as president of HCZ, Canada’s trailblazing work has addressed the issue of how to save America’s failing public schools. The non-profit organization is “a birth-through-college network of programs that would start with 24 blocks and grow to 97 blocks over time.” It now offers a multitude of programs such as a parenting workshop series called The Baby College, The TRUCE Fitness and Nutrition Center, Promise Academy Charter Schools, and The Peacemakers Program, which trains youth who are committed to making their neighborhoods safe. In the years since Canada took the reins, Harlem Children’s Zone has expanded its reach to more than 20 sites throughout Harlem and continues to affect the lives of more than 12,000 children and 12,000 adults.
Canada’s story is chronicled in the award-winning 2010 documentary, “Waiting for Superman.”
The New York Times Magazine called Harlem Children’s Zone “one of the most ambitious social-policy experiments of our time,” and affirmed that the program’s objective “is to create a safety net woven so tightly that children in the neighborhood just can’t slip through.”
Other honorees of the museum's 2013 Freedom Awards include Earl Graves, founder and publisher of Black Enterprise Magazine; and Mary Robinson, first female president of Ireland and human rights champion.
About The National Civil Rights Museum’s Freedom Award:
The Freedom Award is an annual event presented by the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis TN. Since 1991, the Freedom Award has served as a symbol of the ongoing fight for human rights both in America and worldwide. Recipients are celebrated for their tireless contributions in civil and human rights, education, the arts, sports & community service, justice and for their dedication to creating opportunity for the disenfranchised. The Public Forum is an event focused on area youth and features remarks from Freedom Award honorees. The Keepers of the Dream award is given to six local youth who have demonstrated acts of compassion, leadership, courage and service.