Leadership Changes at Prominent Harlem Community Organization

February 10, 2014 Updated: February 10, 2014

NEW YORK—Harlem Children’s Zone, a prominent community organization in Harlem, announced a change in leadership Monday, with Chief Executive Officer Geoffrey Canada moving to another company and Anne Williams-Isom, the chief operating officer, taking his place.

“If Harlem Children’s Zone was a stock, I would not only continue to own it, I would double up on it because this man has chosen a wonderful successor,” said Stanley Druckenmiller, the chairman of the board of trustees at the organization.

Isom received a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University and a law degree from Columbia University. She went on to practice at two prestigious law firms in New York before joining the city’s Administration for Children’s Services. She has been the chief operating officer at Harlem Children’s Zone since 2009.

Harlem Children’s Zone is located on the west side of 129th Street, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Manhattan.

“Once the symbol of renaissance in black America, Harlem became the symbol of all that was wrong,” Canada said of the 1980s, when he first started working at the organization.

Founded in the 1990s, Harlem Children’s Zone provides social and child welfare. It boasts a Baby College for parents, a pre-school program called Harlem Gems, an asthma initiative, an obesity program, and two charter schools called Promise Academy I & II.

The community organization holds that the chain of generational poverty cannot be broken by education alone and that a holistic approach is needed to address the child’s environment, nutrition, home life, and other success factors.

Harlem Children’s Zone has seen impressive growth. It started out on one block in 1990 and encompassed 24 blocks by 1997. Today it covers over 97 blocks, serving more than 12,000 children in charter and public schools, and more than 12,000 adults.

Waiting for Superman

Canada, the departing head of Harlem Children’s Zone, was featured in the 2010 film “Waiting for Superman” along with the Promise Academy as an example of an education system that is thriving.

The documentary looks at education in the United States and some of the factors that are causing schools to fail. In that documentary, Canada, who grew up in Harlem, recalled the point he realized Superman was not coming.

“She [his mother] thought I was crying because it’s like Santa Clause is not real but I was crying because there was no one coming with enough power to save us,” Canada said.

Promise Zones

The combination of providing education and social services to the community has proven so successful that President Barrack Obama’s administration has co-opted the idea.

Obama announced last month the creation Promise Zones in five regions in the United States that are struggling with poverty. The president is putting together a package of services based on Harlem Children Zone’s model.

Holly Kellum is a special correspondent in New York. 

Follow Holly on Twitter: @HollyGailK