Geoffrey Canada, founder of Harlem Children's Zone, to speak at MLK celebration

Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone and a leader in school reform, will deliver the keynote speech at the University of Chicago’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012, at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave.

The event comes 55 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of his first Chicago speeches from the Rockefeller Chapel pulpit in 1956, before he became the well-known civil rights leader whose legacy Americans now celebrate each January.

The MLK Celebration in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel is a free event, and tickets will be issued to people who wish to attend. The University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement, the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute (UEI), and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) will have a limited number of tickets available for distribution.


Canada, who will be talking about education, was a schoolteacher who dreamed of bringing more opportunities to the children of the Harlem neighborhood in New York.

In 1990, he conceived the Harlem Children’s Zone, and in 1997 the agency launched the Harlem Children’s Zone Project, which targets 100 blocks in Central Harlem with a comprehensive range of services. The project serves more than 10,000 children and 7,400 adults to strengthen the community and give children a brighter future.

Inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone, Chicago built its own Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community to support families and education on the South Side.

The New York Times magazine called the Harlem Children’s Zone “One of the most ambitious social experiments of our time.” In October 2005, U.S. News and World Report listed Canada among “America’s Best Leaders.” The New York Times described the Harlem Children’s Zone Project as an initiative that “combines educational, social, and medical services. It starts at birth and follows children to college. It meshes those services into an interlocking web, and then it drops that web over an entire neighborhood. The objective is to create a safety net woven so tightly that children in the neighborhood just can’t slip through.”

Canada has received numerous awards for his work with HCZ, which has become a national model and the subject of many media stories. Most recently, Canada can be seen prominently featured in the Davis Guggenheim documentary Waiting for “Superman.”

He grew up in the South Bronx in a poor, sometimes violent neighborhood. Despite his troubled surroundings, he was able to succeed academically, receiving a bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College and a master’s in education from the Harvard School of Education. After graduating from Harvard, Canada decided to work to help children who, like himself, were disadvantaged by their lives in poor, embattled neighborhoods.

Drawing upon his own childhood experiences and those collected from the Harlem Children’s Zone, Canada wrote Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America and Reaching Up for Manhood: Transforming the Lives of Boys in America. In its review of Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America, Publishers Weekly reported, “A more powerful depiction of the tragic life of urban children and a more compelling plea to end ‘America’s war against itself’ cannot be imagined.”

The University’s 2012 Diversity Leadership Award recipients, Shayne Evans (staff award), Director of the University of Chicago Charter School, and Sylvia Puente (alumni award), AM’90, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Forum, who will receive their awards from President Robert J. Zimmer at a private reception in Ida Noyes Hall, also will be honored at the Rockefeller celebration.

Mandel Hall will serve as an overflow site should Rockefeller Chapel reach its seating capacity. Members of the University community will be able to watch the celebration via a live webcast accessible with a University of Chicago CNetID. More information about the event is available by contacting OMSA.  

The University Community Service Center is accepting volunteer registration for the 2012 MLK Day of Service on Saturday, Jan. 14.

This campus-wide service day sends more than 100 volunteers to sites throughout the city of Chicago. The MLK Day of Service is an integral part of the University of Chicago's MLK Commemoration and it reflects the vision and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Students, student groups and staff and faculty members are welcome to register for the MLK Day of Service at this link.