Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Role of Chance in Educational Path

BOND: Your decision to go to college in Brunswick, Maine, far away from the south Bronx, very different from the south Bronx, could’ve been put down to chance.

CANADA: It was chance.

BOND: What do you think — how much do you think of your life has been chance? Luck? Something fortunate that had happened as opposed to deliberate planning and strategy?

CANADA: Oh, this is the reason that I believe we’ve got to allow poor children real opportunities because without that luck or that chance, my life is over. I’m not graduating college. I’m probably ending up in jail or on drugs or something and that happened to all the rest of the kids who didn’t make it out and I always thought it was unfair. See, in some communities, if you’re not lucky, you don’t get into Harvard. Right? You can’t go to Harvard, I have to go to the state school, so, oh boy, you weren’t lucky. In some communities, if you’re not lucky, you end up in jail. You end up dead. And part of the challenge I think as is for us to level the playing field.

There were two things that turned out to be just luck. When middle school— I went to junior high school my seventh, eighth, and ninth grade. By ninth grade, I was interested in girls. I wasn’t interested in studying. I just wasn’t focused on it at all and the hormones kicked in and there it was and I didn’t know how important this time was because you had to test to get into the best high schools in New York City, right? It was Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. All of them had tests, so there was test prep and I was in a really good class but I wasn’t going to test prep. I wasn’t interested in that and if you didn’t get in those schools, then I was going to end up going to Morris High School in the south Bronx. I knew if I went to Morris it was over for me. I wasn’t coming out. This was like a gladiator school. That’s what kind of school it was, but you think at fourteen that I could wrap my brain around how important. No, I could not. Right?

I’ll get to the story, I'll get to the story. Well, if I take the test, I don’t get in. Now, I’m sitting there thinking — "oh, my God, I’m going to Morris," and so what I better do is get tough because forget being smart. You don’t make it in Morris if you’re smart. You make it in Morris if you’re tough and so now I’m thinking, "Oh, my goodness, I’ve got to really get tough now because I’m going to Morris." My grandparents moved out to a little town in Long Island, all black, called Wyandanch. Never heard of it before. And out of desperation, I asked if I could come live with them and go to school there and it was a quiet school with no violence, no drugs, and they said yes, and so there was the second.

I got luck for Bowdoin, luck not to go to Morris and my whole life is changed and I think that that’s one of the shames of this country, that it wasn’t whether or not I ever had the potential. It was just whether or not I was trapped in a place where I was not going to have an option to run into quality experiences which would give me an opportunity to reach my own potential and I think there are millions of young people who are trapped in these kinds of places where unless something lucky happens, they’re simply not going to make it out and I think that that’s a shame.