Geoffrey Canada, social activistI just listened to an episode of NPR’s This American Life, that told the story of Harlem’s Children Zone. Founded by Geoffrey Canada, HCZ has the stated goal to eliminate poverty in Harlem for all children. Not a reasonable percentage – but all of them.

He starts with “Baby College,” where he teaches parents of infants and toddlers to say encouraging things to their children, and to not hit them.

He has developed a system of charter schools taking children from pre-K to high school graduation.

Combine this with community programs, outreach, social activism, heĀ  does it all.

And it seems to be working.

(He even got the best of Stephen Colbert!)

Canada’s approach isn’t without controversy. Basically he has decided that he will help the children in Harlem but his programs will only indirectly help their parents. Contrary to many social programs, he is not assuming that he needs to raise families out of poverty before he can improve the children’s circumstances. Instead he assumes that giving the children a chance – even as they experience poverty now – will eliminate hardships for the generation that follows.

Part of me wonders if there isn’t a lesson in that. Does meaningful change require hard choices? If you are unwilling to take risks, even risks that might tear your heart out, are you also closing the door to the reward you’re hoping for?

Read up a little on Harlem Children’s Zone, then let us know what you think.