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Geoffrey Canada is the president of Harlem Children’s Zone​ (HCZ), a world-renowned education and poverty-fighting organization based in New York City, and founder of William Julius Wilson Institute (WJWI)​. An innovator in the field of education, author, and leading advocate for children, Canada has made it his life’s mission to help young people from under-resourced communities succeed through education.

To realize his vision, Mr. Canada launched HCZ, a comprehensive, cradle-to-career network of programs that The New York Times called “one of the most ambitious social-policy experiments of our time.” Starting as a one-block pilot project in the 1990s, HCZ today serves more than 34,000 students and families living in a 97-block area of Central Harlem in New York City.  

HCZ Founder and President Geoffrey Canada outside the Geoffrey Canada Community Center, home of HCZ Promise Academy II, at the intersection of Madison Avenue and 125th Street in Harlem.

Elevating HCZ to a national model

Under Mr. Canada’s leadership, HCZ became a national model of place-based innovation for organizations across the country and the world. In 2010, President Barack Obama created the Promise Neighborhoods Initiative to replicate the HCZ model in under-resourced communities throughout the United States. Mr. Canada was subsequently named one of the world’s most influential people by Time in 2011 and as one of the 50 greatest leaders by Fortune in 2014. 

Mr. Canada and HCZ have also received significant national media attention. They were featured in the award-winning documentary Waiting for Superman, as well as on 60 Minutes, The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, and MSNBC, and in articles in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and The Associated Press. In 2008, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough, a book chronicling the work of Mr. Canada and HCZ. In 2013, Mr. Canada gave a TED Talk, an appearance that has garnered nearly 500,000 views on YouTube (to view more videos featuring Mr. Canada and HCZ, visit HCZ’s YouTube Channel).

Influencing a new generation of leaders

Mr. Canada has also influenced a new generation of education leaders and reformers through his speeches and writings. Most notably, Mr. Canada authored two critically acclaimed books: Fist Stick Knife Gun (Beacon Press), in which he recounts his experience growing up in a single-parent household in one of the most devastated communities in the United States, the South Bronx; and Reaching Up for Manhood (Beacon Press), in which he draws on his years of work with inner-city youth and his own turbulent boyhood to offer a moving and revelatory look at the little-understood emotional lives of boys.

Additionally, he has published essays in Stanford Social Innovation Review, The New York Times, The New York Daily News, and The Chronicle of Philanthropy, among others. He also is a regular speaker at conferences focused on place-based work and education reform.

Founding William Julius Wilson Institute

After 30 years, Mr. Canada stepped down in 2014 as Chief Executive Officer of HCZ (the current CEO, Kwame Owusu-Kesse, assumed the role in 2020). He continues to serve as president of the HCZ and HCZ Promise Academy Boards.

In 2020, Mr. Canada came out of retirement to launch WJWI, a national resource for place-based, people-focused solutions that open pathways to social and economic mobility. For its first initiative, WJWI led a national COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Effort to combat the devastation of the pandemic in Black and brown communities across the country.

HCZ Founder and President Geoffrey Canada speaks with CNN’s Poppy Harlow and HCZ CEO Kwame Owusu-Kesse at the West Side Community Center, home of HCZ Promise Academy I.