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Nancy Roob, president of the Clark Foundation, calls Canada "the most fiercely determined leader I've met." He is "laser focused," says Richard Murphy, Rheedlen's founder and former head. A demanding boss, Canada requires staff to be punctual and to "bring their A-games." He keeps meetings short and to the point. He fired four Promise Academy teachers in its first weeks when they didn't meet expectations. "You have to have great people," Canada says. "And you can't be afraid of being with folk who are more talented than you. You have got to allow people who are really good to do what they do without micromanaging them."
Canada encourages constant program revisions to improve the Zone's reach and results. To get more Baby College participants, for instance, the Zone staff canvasses the neighborhood and offers incentives: raffles for a $50 gift certificate at the end of each class and for a full month's rent at the end of the program. The staff even makes wake-up calls and helps get children dressed for the day.
Role model. Canada's older brother, Daniel, credits their mother, Mary Canada, with teaching the importance of education and public service. When Mary Canada realized that by the fourth grade Daniel still couldn't read, she railed at the schools: "You will not ruin my children." Then she quit her job and went on welfare until she finished teaching her sons what they had missed. She also stressed, "Your gifts are not for your use. They're for God's use," says Daniel.
Growing up, Geoffrey was a "people person," Daniel recalls, and a "chameleon who could change to fit whatever situation he was in." As a leader, Geoffrey Canada says he strives to show no fear. "I learned from the street stuff in the Bronx, if you're in the middle of some fight and the person who is your leader is scared, you can forget it; you're packing and running."
He has strong views on other aspects of leadership. "You have to recognize what you're really good at and not good at," he says. "You also have to be able to decide if what you're really good at is still a key requirement of your job. I'm really good at working with kids, but, unfortunately, that's not what my job is about these days."
He is also all too aware of the tendency of many leaders to self-destruct. "Too many leaders have wanted to steal the money, to sleep with the secretary, or they wanted to be king," he says. "I honestly think this is a higher calling than just me and this group."
Does anything scare him? "The only thing that really worries me is that we won't get a chance to really do this completely before I don't have the stamina to continue at this pace." Great leaders, he says, "have to be indefatigable. The ability to work long hours, under stressful conditions, for many years, is a requirement--and it's something people often overlook."
For now, he is working 24-7. On a hot summer night, Canada, in a baseball cap, khaki pants, and a "HCZ TEAM" T-shirt, steps before a crowd of 4,000 Harlem parents and children. They have just finished watching a series of impressive children's performances after the 11th annual Zone peace march ended at a band shell in Marcus Garvey Park. Canada, misty-eyed, grabs the mike. He pauses, maybe assessing the state of his rescue work, before saying, "This is the hope of Harlem we're looking at."
BORN: Jan. 13, 1952 EDUCATION: B.A., Bowdoin College; M.A., Harvard Graduate School of Education INSPIRATION: When Canada was 12, he sliced a finger with a knife he carried for protection in his rough neighborhood. He kept the injury a secret, and it never healed. He says the crooked finger "keeps the urgency of [our] work with children at the forefront of my mind."
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