Humane: Do Some Good
A Highly Developed Intellect
The dictionary defines the word 'intellectual' as anyone “possessing a highly developed intellect”. Yet the word ‘intellectual’ has lost its meaning and taken on a cloak of snobbery. Is there something wrong with being smart? There is an anti-intellectualism movement afoot in America. Somewhere along the line, a highly developed intellect lost its social value, especially among young people who consider smarts as uncool.
A few years ago, in my creative writing group, I threw out this prompt, "not one of them can crawl out of the bucket before the other crabs pull ‘em down." I never knew how any of my prompts would inspire my group. Sometimes one would kindle their imagination, other times a memory. This time I was especially curious as to what Jill was going to write about. She was a teacher in the local high school.
The routine was to write for twenty minutes then read it aloud if you wanted to. When we got around the circle to Jill, she chose to read her piece about the prevailing behavior of students keeping each other down. The group was a little surprised to find out that even in such a community that had always valued education, this insidious attitude had taken hold. Jill's commentary caused me to wonder if anyone was tackling this societal issue. My research led me to The Harlem Children's Zone.
Shortly after my discovery, I had the pleasure of hearing Geoffrey Canada, CEO of The Harlem Children's Zone, speak in Cleveland. He is a polished and astute older black man who speaks with grace and eloquence. He has designed a program in education that has restored high standards as socially acceptable. It begins with "Baby College". Young couples enroll with their new baby and learn how to raise their child to become a student of excellence. This includes life style, parenting, environment, and education.
The Harlem Children's Zone is now in its 17th year. Mr. Canada acknowledges that no program can ever be perfect, but some can do some good. I think he's being modest. Fortune Magazine recently ranked Geoffrey Canada #12 on the list of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. Here is an introduction about the program from their website:
The Harlem Children’s Zone® has always been driven by the belief that the success of our children and the strength of the community go hand in hand. Their needs are inseparable and must be addressed together in order to break the cycle of generational poverty and give our kids a real shot at the American dream.
Aimed at providing comprehensive, critical support to children and families and reweaving the very fabric of community life, the HCZ® Project began as a one-block pilot in the 1990s. With bold ambition, careful planning, and a strong infrastructure, we set out to address not just some, but all of the issues children and families were facing within a finite geographic area: crumbling apartments, rampant drug use, failing schools, violent crime, and chronic health problems.
Building on the success of this early initiative, we launched a 10-year strategic plan in 2000, steadily and systematically expanding the depth and breadth of our programming to encompass 24 blocks, then 60 blocks, and ultimately 97 blocks. Today, the Children’s Zone® serves more than 10,700 youth and nearly 8,000 adults and our organization as a whole serves over 12,300 youth and 12,400 adults.
You can read the impressive statistics detailing the success of HCZ on their Fact Sheet.
I feel passionate about the deplorable state of public education in America. Some of our high schools have a graduation rate hovering around 40%. We can't just pin it on the teachers, or the government. It's on us. This is a societal issue, first and foremost. To find out how you can spread the success of The Harlem Children's Zone, go to their page, "Spreading the Model".