- Faith & Family
Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Inc., was the keynote speaker recently at the Caleb Center where he addressed families and youth about ways to build Liberty City’s future and reclaim the community block-by-block. And while Harlem is a long way from Liberty City, the kinds of challenges that Blacks face in both communities suggest that if change is going to happen, it will require the collective efforts of parents, children, teachers, preachers and elected officials.
But can Canada’s model for change in which he has transformed almost 100 blocks in a neighborhood where children were never supposed to have a chance be replicated here in Liberty City? The Miami Children’s Initiative [MCI] believes it can. That’s why the nonprofit organization was established in 2008 by the Florida Legislature with the vision to transform three of Florida’s most challenging yet promising areas: Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville. Residents and local business people, as well as leaders in health care, education and human services, have all given their support to the community-wide initiative. As in the case of Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, MCI, led by its board chairperson Annie Neasman, believes that Liberty City’s greatest strength lies in the undeveloped potential of its youth. Additionally, the belief is that through focused strategic work, the potential of each child can be unleashed.
“Shame on us if we don’t care for our kids,” Canada said. “We may not know how we let things get this bad but it’s way past time to make a change. We are not preparing our children for the job force of tomorrow — they lack the needed skills and education. Meanwhile, we have a system that is designed so that when there are no jobs for our kids, there is another place for them — prison. In fact, the U.S. has more people in prison, 744/100,000, than any other country on the planet. And most of the inmates look like us. Liberty City is a lot like Harlem was 25 years ago. Back then I had gotten used to the trash, the violence, the drug dealers on the corners, the kids running wild and the graffiti. I got so used to it that I began to ignore what was happening around me. Our children need our help. You have to be as determined as I was to fix what’s broken.”
Success should not be determine by where one lives
School board member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall says we are on the right path.
“MCI has a designated Impact Zone [from NW 59th St. to NW 63rd St. and 15th Ave. to 22nd Ave.] where positive change is happening,” she said. “We are following Canada’s lead and making sure more of our children are ready for school, succeeding in school and able to both enter and graduate from college. That’s how we change Liberty City.”
“Can something good come out of Liberty City?” asked State Representative Cynthia Stafford. “Well, I am a product of this community. Dr. Bendross-Mindingall is a product of this community. People believed in us and helped us reach our fullest potential. That’s what we have to continue to do for each generation. Children should not be defined by their zip codes.”
Ninth graders from Miami Northwestern Senior High School know that Liberty City can be a dangerous place in which to live. Their parents realize that raising a child here can be a daunting experience given our schools that lack adequate resource, gangs that are running rampant and violence which occurs on practically every corner. But when Northwestern’s freshman class was asked to read Canada’s book, “Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun,” and write an essay addressing the question, “What can adults and youth do now to create a safe place to live in Liberty City?,” their responses were chilling.
“Boom, boom, boom — everybody get down,” is how Brandy Cauley began her essay.
For Jawan Johnson, his perspective was similar: “Wow! Another drive-by. Another one of my friends dead. Man, it’s crazy and it’s here. Teens and adults are getting killed left and right.”
By D. Kevin McNeir