Harlem Children’s Zone founder gives feedback on Northside Achievement Zone
By James L. Stroud, Jr.
If a revolutionary is a person dedicated to change in any establishment, like a school system, business, or a government agency, then one might consider the appointment of Geoffrey Canada as the commander and chief of an education reform revolution.
On October 2, Canada, who is nationally recognized as an educator, mentor, children’s education advocate, poet and the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, accompanied by U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), made a visit to the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) in North Minneapolis.
NAZ is a 501(c)3 nonprofit education project that was formerly the Peace Foundation, which had a focus of stopping violence in North Minneapolis. Since changing to NAZ, their goal is to replicate the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone.
Lead by President/CEO Sondra Samuels, the mission of the NAZ is to build a culture of achievement in a geographic zone in North Minneapolis to ensure that all youth graduate from high school college ready. It is a collaborative effort that brings together neighbors (including parents and youth), schools, service providers and government agencies to accomplish their mission. Last year, NAZ received a $28 million Promise Neighborhood Grant that is spread out over a five-year period.
Over the last 20-plus years, Geoffrey Canada has become nationally recognized for his pioneering work helping children and families in Harlem as a passionate advocate for education reform. Canada reaches out to troubled families with troubled kids who live in one of his organization’s designated neighborhood zones who need their help. Here are excerpts from his poem “A Small Army of Love,” in response to youth killed by gun violence:
“We need a small army of love/And no thanks: We don’t need any rifles/No guns, and no tanks/Just love, and help from above/Our army will be small, diverse, and unique/Little soldiers in braids, and some with sneakered feet/All marching for peace…”
In 1997, the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) Project was launched. It targets a specific geographic area in Central Harlem with a comprehensive range of services.
The Zone project today covers 100 blocks and aims to serve over 10,000 children. Since it began, HCZ has successfully helped over 900 children obtain a college education.
The work of Canada and HCZ has become a national model and has been the subject of many profiles in the media. Their work has been featured on 60 Minutes, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Nightline, CBS This Morning, The Charlie Rose Show, National Public Radio’s On Point, as well in articles in The New York Times, The New York Daily News and USA Today.
The HCZ has been described as a combination of education, social and medical services, which start at birth and follow children to college and cover the entire neighborhood, not just a few families. The objective is to create a safety net woven so tightly that children in the neighborhood can’t slip through.
In a warm reception hosted by the Plymouth Christian Youth Center (PCYC), Canada addressed close to 100 people. “Let me tell you the tough part of this. The work is hard. It’s going to call on all of you to give this your utmost. We take personal responsibility for all of our young people. You know what I tell my team?… ‘Before you give up on any child, bring them to me. If you can’t save them, I’ll save them,’” said Canada.
Canada encouraged the NAZ staff to stick together, support each other and most of all, not to let their standards slip. Canada believes that anyone that joins this group has got to have high standards.
The MSR asked Canada a few questions about his visit to NAZ.
MSR: What do you think of NAZ or the Minnesota version of your program?
GC: This is extraordinary! It really is extraordinary. The progress that I’ve seen in such a short period of time is absolutely stunning. The staff is really talented, I can tell, and the kids are great. So it’s very exciting.
MSR: Do you have any other schools around the country modeled after HCZ?
GC: Yes, there are five other models that were funded the same way as NAZ, with federal dollars.
MSR: Are you a hired consultant to those five programs?
GC: I help with all of them, but as a volunteer only. This is not part of my job. My job is to just try and help communities do the right thing.
The Northside Achievement Zone is located at 2123 West Broadway Avenue, #100, in Minneapolis. For more information, contact them at 612-521-4405 or go to www.northside achievementzone.org.
James L. Stroud, Jr., welcomes reader responses to jls [email protected]