That’s what Geoffrey Canada challenged Springfield to do as he closed out his lecture last Wednesday evening at Springfield Symphony Hall. The presentation was part of the Springfield Public Forum’s 2009 Speaker Series. This event was preceded by a similarly styled lecture with Paul Tough (video, too), author of “Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest To Change Harlem and America,” and an intense panel discussion with local experts on urban education and poverty, held at the MacDuffy School.
Canada was well received by a crowd of approximately 2,000 area residents, and just about every one of them came away inspired and hopeful about future prospects. He shared his thoughts on what it takes to revitalize a community, as he provided some insight into his experiences with the famed Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ). The “zone” creates a protective “conveyor belt” or “pipeline,” which carries children from birth to and through college, blocking out distractions and negative elements that typically malign the life paths of urban youth.
Canada admits that although the program currently implemented in Harlem may not be an exact fit for every distressed urban area, it provides a great model to follow and should be tailored according to the respective needs of city neighborhoods across America.
It appears Canada is onto something great here. All of the publicity surrounding the HCZ is reminiscent of the Obama buzz that swept the country just prior to the 2008 Presidential election. I am as enthused as everyone, and equally, if not more impressed. I was honored to have the privilege of a brief introduction and a photo opportunity with Mr. Canada, prior to his on-stage appearance. I learned first-hand how in-demand he is when his cell phone rang and he so kindly apologized for the interruption, explaining “the White House is on the line…they’ve been trying to reach me all day long.” That’s good enough for me!
I’m eager to learn more about the inner workings of the HCZ. I will be spending the next couple of days as part of cohorts representing Springfield and Holyoke attending the HCZ conference in New York City. The conference, “Changing The Odds: Learning from the Harlem Children’s Zone Model,” is aimed at practitioners, policy makers, educators, CBO’s, public officials, and funders who want to learn more about the HCZ’s holistic community development model. This may be the radical change in strategy that we have been searching for. Stay tuned…
(Here’s an interesting article about some Chicago-based groups that are headed to the same conference.)