Campus News

Geoffrey Canada í74 Calls on Bowdoin Students to Improve Society, not Just Themselves

Story posted October 29, 1999

Geoffrey Canada is trying to outrun the Grim Reaper. And heís tired.

Death steals two-thirds of Harlemís young men by the time they are 45 years old. It took three of Canadaís boyhood friends in one week. It took his older brother. It took his adopted son. And it is taking, with the help of cheap and accessible firearms, tens of thousands of children across the country.

As president and CEO of the Rheedlen Centers for Children & Families in New York, Canada í74 is trying to save the poor children of Harlem, one family at a time. Itís not an easy task, and he asked the students at the Oct. 29 Common Hour for help.

"This is not a theoretical thing for me; I work with these kids every day," he said. "There are 6,000 kids we work with at Rheedlen; 3,000 are boys. That means 2,000 will not live to see 45."

This is in a country that leads the world in wealth and power. On the darker side, we also excel in moral bankruptcy and poverty.

"Poverty shames us as a nation," he told the rapt audience. "Itís not some benign condition. Itís a killer."

Canada talked about David Chin Joseph, an orphaned boy who came to think of Canada as a father, and whom Canada thought of as a son.

"I saw him grow into a fine young man," Canada said with pride. "Two years ago, they killed him in a park in New York City. If they can kill the best of us, those who play by the rules, those who are devoutly religious and go to college
if I couldnít save David Chin Joseph, who could I save?"

"Itís too late for David Chin Joseph, but itís not too late for us."

He talked about the leaden burden that hangs over people who must live in poverty, those who will be crushed when the weight overwhelms this countryís ability to support it.

"You wonít be crushed. You, by virtue of your education, have been guaranteed safe passage," he said. "My question is, do you care about those who will not make it without your help?"

"Come join our team," he said. "Weíre losing. We need winners who arenít afraid to play on a losing side."

He told the students, particularly the Class of 2000, whom he had welcomed to Bowdoin at their convocation four years ago, to go out and get some seasoning before they join him.

"Itís tougher than you think out here," he warned. "Thereís evil out here. This is the real thing: pain, suffering, despair and death.

"But in the end, we are going to win, because we are right."

He told of a fantasy he has about being approached by the future leaders of social justice. "Theyíll say, ĎDonít you remember me? Iím from Bowdoin, Class of 2000.í And Iíll sit on the sidelines and cheer you on, knowing you chose the right side."

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