“In inner cities where overcoming the odds is the only way for children to achieve success, [Geoffrey] Canada contends that the odds need to be changed.”
That is the opening line of Jeremy Del Rio‘s fantastic piece on the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) written on behalf of the 2012 Global Leadership Summit. It is well worth the read and can be downloaded for free here.
I have felt for some time that Geoffrey Canada is one of the great minds of our time, and that HCZ is one of the really important urban models for us all to interact with.
One of the things that I have always appreciated about HCZ is the simplicity, elegance, and transferability of their core principles and philosophy. When you see an organization with an $84 million operating budget, hundreds of paid staff, and an outreach radius that touches over 10,000 children annually, it is easy to assume that they operate in a universe all to themselves. What could possibly transfer from a behemoth like that to a small nonprofit, church, or social service agency?
That’s the magic of their model – at least in my eyes. In this article Jeremy Del Rio distills the HCZ philosophical framework and initiatives into four core pillars. These principles should be studied and discussed by anyone that wants to see the odds changed. Perhaps we will not all agree on these, but I would content they should at least be the starting point for our conversation:
1) Rebuild the community from within by developing indigenous leaders who already live in the neighborhood. “Mostly we found that to change a block, you had to get between 10 and 20 percent of the people engaged.” Hope spreads and negative elements move elsewhere.
2) Start early and never stop. Provide services from before birth through prenatal parenting classes and continuing through the completion of college. “Our theory is you never let the kids get behind in the first place.”
3) Think and plan big. Overwhelm the negative with positive influences. Make success and hard work normative.
4) Evaluate relentlessly. HCZ holds 1,300 full and part-time employees accountable to predetermined results. “If you took a salary to deliver an outcome and you didn’t deliver the outcome, you can’t stay here in the organization.” All programs have ten-year business plans with goals, targets, and timetables.
What do you think? Do those 4 pillars resonate with you? If so, why? And if not, what’s missing?
I am a lifelong Chicagoan, a pastor at River City Community Church, and an author who writes a lot about resisting and confronting white supremacy from a faith lens.
Our church was founded in January of 2003 in the west Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago, and is centered on the core values of worship, reconciliation, and neighborhood development. We long to see increased spiritual renewal as well as social and economic justice in the Humboldt Park neighborhood and entire city, demonstrating compassion and alleviating poverty as tangible expressions of the Kingdom of God. It is also through the gift of this faith community that I have learned to see the profound historical and spiritual impact of the stronghold of white supremacy, and where I have been challenged to broaden and deepen my understanding of discipleship in the hopes of becoming a serious enough Christ follower who is able to meaningfully participate with those who have risen up in defiance of this evil principality.
The lessons learned in this journey have been captured in a pair of books on race. The first, White Awake, explores the barriers that white people tend to face – white Christians specifically – when we attempt to awaken to and understand white supremacy through a faith lens. I spend a lot of time here addressing the internal defenses that are bound to go off when this journey is taken seriously, and I chart out a path for developing a resilient spirit that steadfastly moves towards truth, justice, and equity. The second, White Lies, further builds out the path for the white Christian who longs to actively participate in the resistance and confrontation of white supremacy. I spend a lot of time here exploring why it is so hard to tell the truth about race, as well as expose the lies that sustain it, within white, Christian, Bible-believing environments. I then propose nine practices that position us for engaging in this task.
On the personal front, my career started in the marketplace, as I was part of three dot.com startups in the 90’s. My vocational path shifted when I joined the staff of Willow Creek Community Church in 1998, and I spent five years working there. I started River City Community Church in January 2003 and have been happily serving here ever since. On the education front, my undergrad was in Business (Purdue University), my graduate degree in theology (Moody Bible Institute), and my doctoral degree in community development (Northern Seminary). On the family front, my wife is a Professor of Psychology, and we have two amazing children (Xander and Gabriella).
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