Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Choosing Career: Helping Children Succeed

BOND: Now this is a natural segue. How did you come to choose your career, to do what you do now? How did you get from these earlier feelings to where you sit right now?

CANADA: It’s all so personal with me and most things I do in my life — you know, so I told you about the tracking, so I had these friends and we were really — this is at a time where a friend — you would say to a friend — watch my back and what that meant was if I got into a fight and somebody tried to jump in, would you stay and help fight that person or would you run, so a person who would run could not be your really good friend, but someone who would watch your back was a good friend, so friendship was a qualitative thing that we could measure by how close you were and how willing this person was to possibly get hurt with you, so I had these good friends. They were terrific. They never had the chance. No one ever thought they were smart. Pretty soon they didn’t think they were smart and I watched these young people end up dying and getting arrested and going to jail while I went on this other trajectory and I always thought that, and this is —

I knew I was going to do this work when I was eleven or twelve because it became very clear to me — one of the things about reading, one of the things about reading was that I found that out the way we lived, a lot of people didn’t live that way. There was a whole different world out there that you didn’t grow up living with roaches and rats and having to worry about people shooting you and robbing you. That that was for some reason this was in our neighborhood but if you only went fifteen blocks away, people were growing up with a totally different view of what childhood looked like and I just thought to myself, why did this happen to us and where are the adults to come in and save us. One of the things that — this sounds silly now — but one of the things that really depressed me and it’s hard for anything to depress me — I don’t get depressed, was when I found out there was no Superman and I used to read comic books and, you know, when you read them at that time, we thought Superman was really—

And then I remember one of my friends, he didn’t know Superman and I used to argue — "Superman is, he’s coming." They said, "There’s no Superman." I remember I asked my mother and she had no idea what I was asking her because she thought I was asking her, "There’s this mythical — is this cartoon real?" And I was asking her, “Isn’t there somebody who can come in and save us?” And she said, “No, no, Superman’s not real,” and I thought, "There’s no one coming. It’s just like they’re just going to let us live like this and this is just how — " And I thought, you know what, there ought to be someone coming in to these communities and saying to kids, "No, I’m here, I’m going to make sure the monsters don’t get you. I’m going to make sure you get a good education. I’m going to make sure that this system works for you," and I knew that at eleven or twelve that that’s what I was going to do with my life and if you look at my academic career, you’ll see every single course I took was designed to try and help me figure out what I should be doing to help these kids have success in their life.