University of Delaware
Geoffrey Canada, president and former CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone, delivers the Louis L. Redding Lecture on Civil Rights and Social Justice.

Celebrating diversity

Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children's Zone offers vision for success


2:50 p.m., March 6, 2015--With humor, charisma and a passion for education, Geoffrey Canada, president and former CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, offered an enthusiastic audience at the University of Delaware’s Mitchell Hall his vision of success for children growing up in underprivileged communities. 

The featured speaker in the University’s Louis L. Redding Lecture on Civil Rights and Social Justice on March 3, Canada discussed “The Crisis Facing Youth: What Adults and Communities Can Do to Save Our Children.”

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During his talk, the author and educator made two clear points -- people have to begin to rebuild optimism in the community and be prepared to think outside the box.

“Kids respect the fact that you take a stand to protect them,” said Canada. “There is something about somebody else believing in you more than you believe in yourself.”

Canada explained that it is important to encourage the educational development as well as the spiritual development of young people, which helps to teach a sense of optimism. 

“When kids don’t believe in themselves and don’t get the proper encouragement, it is easier for them to create a barrier for themselves and therefore more easily give up,” said Canada. 

While Canada is passionate about cultivating childrens’ dreams and guiding them on a path to college, he has been criticized for his outside-the-box ideas. 

“I attack our education system because it is failing huge numbers of kids,” said Canada. “People accept the idea in these [impoverished] places, kids will fail and will always fail.”

Through his visionary leadership, Canada created the Harlem Children’s Zone, an education system that fosters student potential and provides equal education opportunities. Children at the school set goals and are expected to go to college. They receive exposure to the arts, sports, cultural activities and health services.

“College is the goal for all of our kids. I want my kids understanding that they are going to college,” said Canada.

He believes that encouraging more innovation in education, and treating teachers as the professionals they are will benefit the education system as a whole.

“We need to come up with new ideas,” said Canada, “we have to keep trying things to see if we can figure out a better way.”

Canada ended his talk with a poem he wrote titled Don’t Blame Me, about lack of accountability in children’s education, which was followed by a standing ovation.

Ever since watching the award-winning documentary Waiting for Superman that featured Canada, Chandler Madison, a freshmen elementary education major, has admired his passion. “I think [the tough realities] need to be said. When it comes to education insufficiencies, we tend to sugarcoat or ignore them.” 

Craig Stack, a senior political science major, agreed. “I think coming from an impoverished background and facing struggles himself, he is to be a respected authority on this topic. The poem he read tonight incorporates everything that we can work on to improve urban education.” 

Canada is a graduate of Bowdoin College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

He has published two books, was named to the Time 100 list of most influential people in the world in 2011 and Fortune’s 50 greatest leaders in the world in 2014. 

2015 Louis Redding Award

Prior to Canada’s lecture, Jose Aviles, UD director of admissions, was recognized as UD’s 2015 Louis Redding Award recipient.

Aviles was honored for serving as a tireless agent of change, transforming UD’s admissions process to broaden recruitment, producing the most diverse classes in history, and establishing the University as a more strategic asset for underserved communities. 

During his tenure, Aviles established the UD Scholars and Scholars By Choice programs in partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware. 

He said these efforts were a product of intention.

“I believe that we can lead the way on the issues of diversity,” said Aviles, later adding, “The country is looking for solutions of leadership and I think that the University of Delaware is in a position to lead.” 

Aviles will assume his new position as associate vice provost and director of admissions at the University of Buffalo May 1. 

Winter Session Writing Contest

Also recognized during the event were two students, senior Elizabeth Quartararo and freshman Robert Lackey, named winners of the Winter Session Writing Contest. The Honors Program challenged students to write an essay about Canada’s book, Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence

Students were asked to address one of two essay options including when, if ever, is violence necessary and describing successful or skeptical efforts of the prevention efforts in the Crime Bill. 

The winning essays can be found on the UD Honors Program homepage.

The Louis L. Redding Lecture Series  

UD’s Louis L. Redding Lecture Series was established to recognize the civil rights efforts of Louis L. Redding, the first African American attorney admitted to the Delaware Bar in 1929. He would be the only African American attorney practicing law in Delaware for the next 25 years. 

In 1954, Redding became part of the legal team that argued the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education. In 1961, he successfully argued another case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that segregating public spaces is not allowed. 

In 1998, the University of Delaware created the Louis L. Redding Chair for the Study of Law and Public Policy, and in 2013 a residence hall was named in his honor on the Newark Campus. 

The Louis L. Redding Lecture is sponsored by the vice provost for diversity, the Office of Student Life, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Education and Human Development, the Honors Program and the Center for the Study of Diversity.

Article by Elizabeth Adams

Photos by Duane Perry

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