Changing the future of thousands of kids growing up in poverty in Harlem is a fairly hefty goal for one man. Besides the cyclical nature of poverty, in order to even begin giving Harlem's youth a chance at competing with their middle- and upper-class counterparts, you'd have to start with fundamental psychological change. This daunting task is the one Geoffrey Canada chose to spend his life on. Paul Tough, an editor at the New York Times Magazine, spent years following Canada's journey to create realistic optimism in Harlem, the recounting of which he has now published in Whatever It Takes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). The book tracks Canada's own tale of escaping the ghetto and attending Harvard, but the real story is his willingness to try anything to change the prospects of Harlem's kids. His greatest achievement turns out to be the Harlem Children's Zone, an area of central Harlem where programs educate youth and their parents, as well as prepare kids to compete for education and work opportunities. Tough will discuss his book, which notes the simple things Canada has done (encouraging mothers to read to their kids at an early age) and the more epic accomplishments (opening a school, maintaining long-term success). It is one hell of a story.
Sun., Oct. 18, 5 p.m., 2009