Geoffrey Canada gives insight at Freedom School benefit luncheon

Kharissa Forte

In April, Time Magazine released its annual list of top 100 innovators, activists and artists. Among inspirations such as Mark Zuckerberg, Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey was Geoffrey Canada. Canada is known for his passion for children, namely those who become victims of a poor education due to living in poverty-stricken areas. A few weeks after Time released the list, Canada spoke at the Freedom School Sixth Child Benefit Luncheon at the Westin Crown Center here in Kansas City. Several prominent Kansas Citians were in attendance, including Rev. Stan Archie, who serves as Vice President of the Missouri School Board of Education, Kansas City Public Schools superintendent Dr. Stephen Green, and Mayor Sly James. I was honored to be able to join these and other respected citizens at the luncheon.

At the luncheon, Canada reminded his listeners that a poor education is not a “black thing” or an “inner city” thing, but an economic issue in which race and environment are only subsequent factors. Recognized for his Harlem Children’s Zone, his innovations serve nearly 8,000 kids in New York and his model is the blueprint for Obama’s Promise Neighborhoods Program.

As someone who has had minimum interest in the issues of children outside of my own, I found Canada’s speech to be very convicting and motivating all at once.

He brought to light so many “little details” that I overlooked that play such an intricate role in children’s lives and – consequently – their education. For example, health issues are an underlining issue. Canada spoke on how expensive it is to buy healthy, nutritional food, however if we go to the movies, we can upgrade a medium fountain drink to a large for just a quarter.

I recall Canada saying, “Anything that is 44 ounces of non-nutritional empty calories should be child abuse.” Wow.

Another overlooked issue is that kids no longer have older adults or role models that believe in them anymore. I remember how my mother would always tell me to believe in myself and I could achieve anything. Today, no one is feeding our youth that same message of hope. Canada stated that if you can take away a child’s belief factor, then you have destroyed that child’s future. As people, we are wired to persevere knowing we have hope and faith to hold on to. Who is instilling hope and faith into the upcoming generation especially here in Kansas City? With a failing public school system, kids here are consistently used to people giving up on them. Canada believes that “giving up” is a huge part of the issue as it significantly damages their levels of confidence. I concur.

By the time the luncheon was over, I wanted to hug and apologize on behalf of society to every child I saw. Canada inspired me to attempt to touch the little lives of the children in my world. It’s not about creating some monumental program for the entire world to see. It’s about offering a kind word, a friendly gesture, or an educational moment on why carrots are a better option than potato chips.

It’s about putting into practice the littlest things that make the biggest differences.

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