"Harlem Rising" directed by Rayner Ramirez
“Harlem Rising” directed by Rayner Ramirez

More than twenty years ago, Geoffrey Canada dared to imagine a different, better future for the impoverished, vulnerable community of Central Harlem. His story – along with a group of dedicated people who’ve turned his vision into reality as the pioneering Harlem Children’s Zone – is the focus of “Harlem Rising,” a new documentary film directed by Rayner Ramirez.

“Harlem Rising,” premieres at the 2020 DOC NYC Film Festival from November 11-19, 2020

“Harlem Rising” chronicles the remarkable history and lives transformed by Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone – named one of the most ambitious social experiments created to break the cycle of poverty. Using archival video footage filmed by Black and Brown youth from the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s, the film captures the transformation of New York City’s Harlem through the unique lens of three generations of students who grew up with the Harlem Children’s Zone.

The film intertwines archival and new footage, including first-person stories of students, parents, and community members that showcase the history and promise of HCZ. Footage filmed by youth from the community during the late 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s captures the revitalization of Central Harlem through the unique lens of three generations of students who grew up relying on Harlem Children’s Zone for needs great and small. Several people whose lives have been transformed by HCZ give insight into its robust, cradle-to-career services and programs.

HCZ Chairman Stanley Druckenmiller and board member Ken Langone – both philanthropists, investors, and entrepreneurs, – among other HCZ advocates, speak to the rewarding experience of partnering with an organization that has been making such a quantifiable and observable impact—to a community-at-large and the people in it — for twenty years.

Casting light on what a revolutionary idea HCZ was, many of its early and vital partners recount the incredible work that went into bringing to life the bold vision of HCZ’s indefatigable founder, Geoffrey Canada. Canada understood that improving only one aspect of Central Harlem wasn’t going to cut it. His holistic vision was to improve the community from its roots. “We’re going to clean [Central Harlem] up,” Canada says in the film of HCZ’s decisive plan from the start. “We’re going to fix the community gardens. We’re going to call out neighbors to come and help change the conditions of this neighborhood.”

The result is one of the most ambitious and impactful social experiments launched to end the cycle of poverty – and a model that today is being replicated in cities across the country. As the pioneer of place-based services, Harlem Children’s Zone spans 97 blocks of Central Harlem and serves a critical mass of 22,500 children and adults in 30 programs and two K-12 Promise Academy Charter Schools.

“The work we are doing at Harlem Children’s Zone is more important than ever. From the pandemic crisis to the national reckoning on inequality, we are living in a time where many are looking at community-based programs with a proven track record who can lead and deliver at scale,” said Harlem Children’s Zone CEO, Kwame Owusu-Kesse.

A remarkable 97% of Promise Academy® high school seniors are accepted to college, and more than 1,100 young women and men have graduated college since 2005. More than 9,000 children have participated in Healthy Harlem, an initiative to combat obesity and foster healthy habits and more than 7,000 families have graduated from The Baby College® since it began in the year 2000.

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