Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Work Ethic from Grandfather

BOND: Tell me about your grandfather. What effect did he have on you?

CANADA: Well, my father left when we were infants and so we grew up — my mother was raising four boys by herself and the only man in my life as a role model was my grandfather and I remember he was a big man who always had a car which was in the south Bronx was like a luxury and I used to think we were rich and it took me a while to find out that we were poor. Now, he said that the reason his whole career ended was because of John Kennedy, that President Kennedy during his inauguration didn’t wear a hat and my grandfather was a hat blocker and men wore hats and they had to be blocked and that’s what he did for a living. He made hats and he blocked hats and the business fell off a cliff and he just literally lost his job and I don’t know whether it was really because of President Kennedy or if it was just a change in men’s style, but that’s how he always told the story and he didn’t have more than I think a fifth or sixth grade education, so he wasn’t going to be able to enter into the labor market, so he did all kinds of things.

He sold fruits and vegetables and he just made sure he always worked for his family and he taught me how to work, I mean, how to really work, and it didn’t matter what we were doing, that we had to do it well. You had to deliver quality to people and you had to have, I think, the tenacity to get the job done, so I got my work ethic from my grandfather. Sometimes he picked me up, six o'clock in the morning, we’d go down to the lower part of Manhattan to get the fish. We’d sell fish all day, cutting them and cleaning them and everything else and, you know, come home that night, I’d get a dollar, I was thrilled, like a whole dollar, and after a while, when I first started working, people would say like, wow, you work long hours, aren’t you tired? I said, no way, cutting fish all day on your feet traveling around, I mean, that’s a tough job. You’re smelly. It’s, you know, fish all over everywhere.

It prepared me at nine, ten. I was used to working all day and I’d work with him all summer and I loved it and I just loved it and the idea of working for a living was something that — I never was without a job, by the way, after I was ten years old. I always had some kind of job that I was selling newspapers, walking dogs, and I always loved — no matter what the work was, I always loved the idea of working and providing and helping my family with the money so that work ethic I think I got from my grandfather.