Geoffrey Canada, famous educator, social activist and head of the Harlem Children’s Zone, gave Rackspace an education Tuesday, urging business and community leaders and individuals to get involved in education to preserve one of the country’s greatest resources: children.
Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), a non-profit, community-based organization working to enhance the quality of life for children and families in Harlem, has made it its mission to clean up the once-dilapidated New York City neighborhood and educate its residents. HCZ offers heath and education programs to more than 15,000 residents in 100 city blocks.
Canada’s work has earned him many accolades, including being selected in 2006 by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as co-chair of the Commission on Economic Opportunity, a role in which Canada was asked to formulate a plan to significantly reduce poverty. In 2007, he was appointed co-chair of New York State Governor’s Children’s Cabinet Advisory Board. And in 2010, Canada appeared in the documentary film Waiting For “Superman,” which examines the failures of American public education.
During his discussion at Rackspace, which took place before a speaking engagement to the Area Foundation in San Antonio, Canada highlighted the need for everyone in to get involved in education and push for change and innovation in an industry that has gone stagnant.
“Unless we get our business community focused on the issue of education we will simply lose our place in this country, and in the world, as a leader,” Canada told a room of roughly 150 Rackers.
And while Canada punctuated his discussion with a few jokes – like an anecdote involving a conversation with Starbucks founder Howard Schultz during which Canada told him, “if we don’t get this next generation an education, I don’t know who you’re going to get to buy an $8 cup of coffee” – it was obvious he’s serious about his cause.
“This is impacting our country in a way that’s devastating,” he said.
Using five key principles – rebuild the community; stay engaged with children from birth through college; scale; believe in data and evaluation; and accountability — Canada and his team went into Harlem to clean up the neighborhood and its schools block by block to give the residents of the community hope.
Canada’s mission is an inspiration to Rackspace, which through the Rackspace Foundation engages with the seven schools in the northeast quadrant of San Antonio, or the “Magnificent Seven,” to create an engaged school environment. Rackspace Chairman Graham Weston said that Canada is on an “inspiring mission” and said that Rackspace is “determined to follow your lead.”
Canada applauded Rackspace for its work in education and praised the company for its “we’re here, we care about this place” attitude.
And Canada further encourages business leaders, community leaders and individuals to get involved, because he said it’s the patriotic thing to do, and the system has become immune to pressure from people like him.
“If you care about America, this is something I think you’ve got to be involved in,” he said, adding that “This is something we’re going to have to care about.”
Overall, Canada said, engaging with youth and fighting for stronger values around education will create more engaged communities, and inspire young people to strive for their dreams and look forward to their futures.
“Hope is as infections as despair,” Canada said, later adding that “Young people look for signs of hope.”