Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Goals for Harlem Children’s Zone

BOND: For my own curiosity, when you’re going through this list of thing you have to fix — the housing, bad housing; the schools, school’s not good; health, not only physical health but mental health, was there something you did not think about that later you had to say, boy, we left this out?

CANADA: Yeah. One of the areas we hadn’t thought about in our community was asthma. It was the number one reason for school absences and the number one reason that young people end up in emergency rooms and when you looked at school and attendance, so much of it was being driven by asthma that we actually had to create a program.

The new one for us today is obesity. It is just — it’s an epidemic in our community and we’re doing all of this work and spending all of this money and it’s going to create a group of people if we don’t tackle this which are going to bankrupt the nation because we’re going to have to spend so much money on their health care as they get diabetes and hypertension and it just goes on and on and on and so this was a new thing for us. We said, "Okay, look, we’ve got to figure out how to do this," but by and large, if you asked me twenty-five years ago what do you think the key ingredients of this is to be successful, I could’ve laid out the same menu, right, so there was nothing that was sort of revolutionary.

We didn’t know handgun violence would be as big an issue, but we knew violence would be but we didn’t know it would be handgun violence, so those kind of changes that are kind of subtle but basically it gets back to Brown v. Board. It gets back to education. It gets back to — are we making sure these young people have an education where they can compete and what’s stopping that from happening? And to me, that’s what this whole thing is about and for some poor kids, there’re a lot of things stopping that from happening. It’s not just whether or not the schools are equitably funded and whether or not the schools are integrated. You’ve got all of these other barriers that you have to remove before these young people can get an education. This is America and we can do it.

BOND: And they’re all interconnected.

CANADA: They’re absolutely all interconnected and people keep thinking somehow you can do this one and not have to worry about that one and I think the research all says no, you’ve got to make sure that you remove these barriers and by the way, this is the part that I think bothers me. So people come and they say, "oh, you provide health care." We have a health clinic. Mental health, we have psychiatrists, social workers. "You do education?" Yes, we run our own schools. "You do all the social— recreation." Yeah, we have great recreation, great culture, great arts, and they’re like "isn’t that great," and I think, no, it is simply average. That’s what the average middle class kid gets in America. There’s nothing great about that. Nothing great about that. We haven’t figured out some great thing, that we’ve created some new way of educating. No. This goes on all over America. It just doesn’t happen in poor communities and so what we’re trying to do is just simply provide for what happens in other places in the country that no one thinks anything particular about. You go into, you know, a nice upper middle class place, there’s health care services, great schools. No one thinks anything about it. The streets look nice and I was like, oh, yeah, I’m fine, you know, because I’m in so and so and you say whatever the name is, right? I’m in Scarsdale. Say, oh, of course, what would you expect in Scarsdale? Well, you know what, we should have that for poor children and no one should think that that’s like some great big thing that we’re providing for them because that should be their right as Americans, in my opinion.

BOND: Yes, it should be the average.

CANADA: It just should be average. It just should be average.