Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children's Zone, Thursday told hundreds of Charlotte leaders that children are experiencing the educational equivalent of Hurricane Katrina, standing on rooftops desperate for help.
"Nobody's coming," he said. "Nobody's going to save our children. You have to save your own children."
Canada spoke at the annual meeting of the Foundation for the Carolinas, which drew a sellout crowd of 1,500. His quest to break the cycle of poverty and academic failure in one of New York City's poorest neighborhoods has sparked national and local attention.
Canada had the crowd laughing at tales of his appearances on "60 Minutes" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show." But he said he goes on such shows to sound a dire warning: "I've become convinced that if our country continues down this path, there's no way we are going to remain a leading power."
While China is working to "bury us" by producing highly educated workers, the United States is building jails to accommodate huge numbers of low-income African-American children who are in the "cradle-to-prison pipeline," he said. He contrasted the $39,000 a year it costs to incarcerate adults, with no benefit to society, with the $5,000 a year he spends on each child hoping to break the cycle.