Geoffrey Canada begins his recent book -- Reaching Up for Manhood: Transforming the Lives of Boys in America -- with his getting the news about the deaths of a number of his childhood friends. These were now grown men, in their primes, with families and futures, but they had paid a terrible price with their health for their early years of hard living. And these were the ones who had made it through the risky transition to manhood in our country today -- whether you come from the tough neighborhoods of the South Bronx, where Canada grew up as a boy, or live in the suburbs of Long Island, where he spent his high school years. As the calls about lost friends piled up, he began to think about how, as he puts it, "the mythology that surrounds being male has led many boys to ruin. The image of male as strong is mixed with the image of male as violent. . . . Male as adventurous equals male as reckless. Male as intelligent often gets mixed with male as arrogant, racist, and sexist." He continues: "Boys find themselves pulled and tugged by forces beyond their control as they make the confusing and sometimes perilous trip to manhood. Some lose their way, " Canada observes. But he goes on: "We must all spend more time trying to understand what happens to boys -- and how we can help shape them into better men."
This attention to the moral, ethical, and emotionally healthy development of young people -- both boys and girls -- has been the subject of Geoffrey Canada's life's work. He is the President of the Rheedlen Centers for Children and Families in New York City and an active, tireless advocate for children -- in particular for the children who have few powerful voices to represent them. He is a fiercly dedicated and intensely personal public intellectual, especially on the subject of violence in this country. In his book, Fist Stick Knife Gun, Canada traces the escalating levels of violence that have swept over generations of American youth, himself included. But he is not content with simply stating the problem of more than 5,000 violent deaths among young people in this country each year. His is a call, to all of us, for action. "If I could get the mayors, and the governors, and the president to look into the eyes of the five-year-olds of this nation, dressed in old raggedy clothes, whose zippers are broken but whose dreams are still alive," Canada writes, "they would know what I know -- that children need people to fight for them. To stand with them on the most dangerous streets, in the dirtiest hallways, in their darkest hours. . . . Monsters are out there and claiming children in record numbers. And so we must stand up and be visible heroes, fighting for our children."
Copyright 2003 © John Cech
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