Geoffrey Canada, social activist and educator, will be the keynote speaker at the 28th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration at Eastern Michigan University

by Debra Johnson, Published December 18, 2013

YPSILANTI – Geoffrey Canada has spent the last two decades helping underprivileged children and families in Harlem, and has become nationally renowned for his pioneering work in education reform.


Geoffrey Canada

Canada will be the distinguished guest and keynote speaker at the 28th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration at Eastern Michigan University on Monday, January 20, 2014. He will present his keynote address at 10 a.m., in the Student Center Auditorium, located at 900 Oakwood, Ypsilanti. The keynote is free and open to the public.

He will also speak at The President’s Luncheon, starting at 11:45 a.m., in the Student Center Ballroom. Tickets for the President’s Luncheon are $10 for Eastern students and $20 for faculty, staff and other community members. Tickets can be purchased at the EMU Convocation Center ticket office, the Student Center ticket office, located on the first floor of the Student Center or online at

Canada, 61, grew up in the South Bronx in a poor and dangerous neighborhood. Despite these bleak conditions, he was able to succeed academically, receiving a bachelor’s of art degree from Bowdoin College in Maine and a master’s degree in education from the Harvard School of Education. After graduating from Harvard, Canada returned to Harlem to help disadvantaged children in his old neighborhood.

Canada joined Harlem Children's Zone, Inc. (then called the Rheedlen Foundation) in 1983 as its education director, and became the president and chief executive officer for the organization in 1990. Prior to that, he worked as director of the Robert White School, a private day school for troubled inner-city youth in Boston.

He has received numerous accolades for his years of work advocating for children and families in some of America’s most devastated communities. Canada began expanding his methods of approach for counseling young children by incorporating martial arts as a teaching aid. He opened his first martial arts school, the Chang Moo Kwon Tai Kwon Do Club, with the help of Rheedlen in 1983. A third-degree black belt, Canada instructs children in strong conflict resolution skills and violence reduction techniques.

The theme for the 2014 MLK celebration is “Where do we go from here?”

“We borrowed inspiration from Dr. King’s last book “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” as a means to place the emphasis of the celebration on how we move forward with addressing the issues of racial equality, economic and social justice,” said Keith Jason, coordinator of student services for the College of Technology and co-chair of the MLK committee.

During the luncheon, the 2014 Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Awards and Evans Strand Scholarship Awards will be presented and honors will be presented to local high school essay contest winners. Award recipients are recognized individuals from within the University and the surrounding community who exemplify the values and ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Nominations for the 2014 Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Awards are currently being accepted.

The President’s Luncheon will also feature a performance by Eastern’s CloseUP Theatre Troupe, and the EMU Jazz Ensemble will provide musical selections during the event. 

The luncheon is part of a week-long celebration honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that starts on Thursday, Jan. 16 with a Commemorative March, and ends with a book and panel discussion on Tuesday, Jan. 21.

“The week-long celebration that will take place this coming January takes a tremendous amount of work from our colleagues and the MLK committee members, and we are very proud of their efforts and contributions,” said Jason.

For more information and the complete schedule of the Martin Luther King Jr. events,  visit the EMU Martin Luther King Jr. homepage.

Debra Johnson

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