April 6, 2011

Giving Our Children Opportunity by Transforming Neighborhoods

Today, I joined Mayor Bloomberg to attend the ground-breaking of the Promise Academy Charter School in the Harlem Children’s Zone, the remarkable education and anti-poverty effort led by Geoffrey Canada.

What makes the Harlem Children’s Zone unique isn’t simply that it encourages children to have dreams – but that it helps children see a path to achieving them. And with the ground we broke today, situated between the St. Nicholas and Lincoln public housing developments, 1,300 more children will have that opportunity to, as President Obama says, help America “win the future.”

Just as important as the new school itself is the work we’re doing to connect it to the revitalization of an entire community. By providing greater access to public health and safety services and connecting the neighborhood to the New York City street grid, we can begin to put an end to the era of the “superblock” – homes disconnected from schools, jobs, transportation, and opportunity. And we can usher in a new era that ensures families in public housing can be a part of the historic Harlem social fabric.

None of this would have been possible without leaders like Mayor Bloomberg and New York City Housing Authority Chairman John Rhea, who are dedicated to creating opportunity for low-income families by forging new partnerships with the private and non-profit sectors, and deeper ties between our public housing and our schools. Supporting their local vision is why HUD green-lighted the Promise Academy project and the Department of Education provided a $60 million Charter Facilities Matching Grant.

And it is why the Administration has been pursuing an interagency Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative modeled on partnerships like these. Together, HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods initiative and DOE’s Promise Neighborhoods initiative ensure we are providing distressed neighborhoods with the affordable housing, safe streets and good schools every family needs.

For me–and for President Obama–partnerships like these aren’t just about revitalizing neighborhoods.

They’re about ending intergenerational poverty and advancing civil rights.

Over half a century ago, in 1954, the Warren Court’s unanimous decision in Brown vs. Board of Education stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The truth is, a separate housing system that prevents low-income families from accessing good schools is also inherently unequal.

With this partnership in Harlem, we’re taking one more step to completing the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement – and ensuring that all American families can live in sustainable, vibrant communities of opportunity and choice.

As President Obama has said, “If poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence, failing schools and broken homes, then we can’t just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community.”

To out-educate the rest of the world and win the future, we must heal those communities. And with the kinds of groundbreaking efforts like the one I saw in Harlem, we will.

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