HARLEM, NY (February 20, 2020) – More than twenty years ago, Geoffrey Canada dared to imagine a different, better future for the impoverished, vulnerable community of Central Harlem. His story—along with a group of dedicated people who’ve turned his vision into reality as the pioneering Harlem Children’s Zone—is the focus of “HARLEM RISING,” a new documentary film directed by Rayner Ramirez.
Ramirez’s passion project, “HARLEM RISING,” premiered at the 28th Annual Pan African Film Festival on Friday, February 21. The film has been nominated for best documentary and is among the festival’s most anticipated debuts.
The film intertwines archival and new footage, including first-person stories of students, parents, and community members that showcase the history and promise of HCZ. Footage filmed by youth from the community during the late 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s capture the revitalization of Central Harlem through the unique lens of three generations of students who grew up relying on Harlem Children’s Zone for needs great and small. Several people whose lives have been transformed by HCZ—as well as some who’ve become employees of the organization—also give insight into its robust, cradle-to-career services and programs.
HCZ Chairman Stanley Druckenmiller and board member Ken Langone—both philanthropists, investors, and entrepreneurs, — among other HCZ advocates, speak to the rewarding experience of partnering with an organization that has been making such a quantifiable and observable impact—to a community-at-large and the people in it—for twenty years.
Casting light on what a revolutionary idea HCZ was, many of its early and vital partners recount the incredible work that went into bringing to life the bold vision of HCZ’s indefatigable founder, Geoffrey Canada.
Canada grew up in the South Bronx in a poor, sometimes violent neighborhood. He later moved to Long Island to live with his grandmother, who was resolute in teaching him the value of education.
Thanks to her influence, Canada received a bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College and a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He learned first-hand the power of education to allow one to dream larger than his or her current circumstances. Canada made it his mission to unlock the same life-changing power for children also raised in poverty and distress.
Canada understood that improving only one aspect of Central Harlem wasn’t going to cut it. His holistic vision was to improve the community from its roots. “We’re going to clean [Central Harlem] up,” Canada says in the film of HCZ’s decisive plan from the start. “We’re going to fix the community gardens. We’re going to call out neighbors to come and help change the conditions of this neighborhood.”
The result is one of the most ambitious and impactful social experiments launched to end the cycle of poverty—and a model that today is being replicated in cities across the country. As the pioneer of place-based services, Harlem Children’s Zone spans 97 blocks of Central Harlem and serves a critical mass of 28,000 children and adults in 31 programs and two schools. A remarkable 97% of Promise Academy high school seniors are accepted to college, and more than 1,600 young women and men are attending or have graduated from college since 2005. More than 9,000 children have taken part in Healthy Harlem, an initiative to combat obesity and foster healthy habits and more than 6,000 families have graduated from The Baby College since it began in the year 2000.