Earlier this month, Rasuli Lewis, Director of Harlem Children’s Zone Practitioners Institute came to Huntsville to conduct a day long workshop. The workshop began in the morning with our board members and the afternoon session included the staff and many of our partners.
Rasuli, a big man in many ways-physically and emotionally, was candid about the successes and challenges of Harlem Children’s Zone. We have been more than blessed to share a relationship with Geoffrey Canada and his organization. As such, they have always been responsive and helpful to Village of Promise. Rasuli was no different.
A lot of what Mr. Lewis focused on was the culture that exists at HCZ. Simply put, it is a culture of excellence on all levels from top to bottom because the stakes are so high. Like Village of Promise, Harlem Children’s Zone is dedicated to eradicating generational poverty by providing a pipeline of services to insure that every child is college ready. We consider HCZ the model for Village of Promise. Lewis stated that their children deserve the very best from teachers, staff and personnel. Rasuli called it a “grab a mop, can do, whatever it takes mentality” to raise the quality of life for all children in Harlem. Whatever needs to be done, even if it is not in one’s job description, WILL get done.
He suggested that those who could not perform needed to find another line of work because anything short of graduation from college was considered a failure at HCZ. Harlem Children’s Zone currently has 843 students in college.
When pressed, Mr. Lewis told our staff and partners that they were the only ones who could determine how much of an impact that they are having in Huntsville. He stressed that they are the ones that must keep the bar high and never let up striving to do better for the children.
Rasuli told us many stories of young kids who got their first tattoo in juvenile detention, went to Rikers as young adults, and then came home to command a block in Harlem as a drug dealer. That was the only way that they saw economic advancement and status in Harlem. Harlem Children’s Zone is committed to changing that pattern, and again, doing “whatever it takes”.
After a session of questions and answers, I was reminded of this quote by Aristotle “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” We thank Mr. Lewis for giving of his valuable time and inspiring us all.