Harlem Children's Zone | COVID-19 Response

Harlem Children's Zone

Scaling emergency relief to Black communities hardest hit by COVID-19

African Americans have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Harlem Children's Zone has pioneered a comprehensive approach to provide comprehensive neighborhood-level emergency response and recovery support to Black communities across the U.S.

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Photo courtesy of HCZ



African American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than expected based on their share of the population. Black Americans suffer from higher rates of conditions like asthma, obesity, diabetes, and kidney disease, making them more susceptible to develop severe or fatal COVID-19. The majority of service workers (a population at high risk of exposure to the virus) are people of color, and 76% of the working class are in service jobs, such as retail or health care. Additionally, the effects of the economic crisis, learning interruptions, and mental health stressors are hitting vulnerable communities already facing a shrinking social safety net hardest. Without a targeted response, these factors could have long term effects that exacerbate inequality and further entrench the impact of systemic racism.

Big Idea

At the onset of the pandemic, Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ), a Black-led organization and one of the leading evidence-based organizations in the U.S., pioneered a comprehensive COVID-19 emergency response and recovery approach. The model focuses on five critical areas: protecting the most vulnerable, bridging the digital divide, preventing learning loss, mitigating the mental health crisis, and providing economic relief and recovery. With Audacious support, over the next four months, HCZ will equip backbone organizations across the U.S. to execute a community-driven vision of their model nationally. Through their direct work on-the-ground, HCZ and its partners will reach over 100,000 community members, including 28,000 people in Harlem and thousands more across six additional major metros. This investment will also strengthen a powerful, Black-led partnership to drive justice and mobility in hundreds of Black communities across America in the years ahead.


Working side-by-side with leading anchor institutions in Minneapolis, Oakland, Newark, Detroit, Chicago, and Atlanta - HCZ will supercharge efforts in Harlem and launch new initiatives in partner cities to address Black communities' most urgent needs and support recovery. These efforts will also be supported and amplified nationally by trusted partners working on the ground in the social sector. This work will include vital emergency relief and wrap-around support, including access to healthcare information and protective gear to keep communities safe from the virus; quality, developmentally appropriate distance learning resources; safe re-entry plans for school; and cash provisions. HCZ will also develop scalable techniques to support partner organizations, provide technical assistance, and advise on the implementation and codifying of best practices.           

Why will this succeed?

Based in Harlem, New York, HCZ has pioneered a holistic approach—serving an entire neighborhood, comprehensively, at scale—and has received national recognition for its unprecedented results, transforming how we fight poverty and racial inequities across the U.S. Running a high-quality pipeline of programs in 30+ sites across the neighborhood, HCZ has an in-depth evidence base for its comprehensive approach across a variety of indicators from early childhood education to physical health. With extensive on-the-ground experience at the neighborhood level, they are in a unique position to lead this innovative COVID-19 coalition. They have already shared information on how to scale their model to 535 communities across 45 states through the HCZ Practitioners Institute. The newly launched William Julius Wilson Institute (WJW) housed at HCZ, will serve as the platform for this national effort

Project Impact

Recent Updates

Kwame Owusu-Kesse, Eliza Shapiro, Stephanie RuhleKwame Owusu-Kesse, Eliza Shapiro, Stephanie Ruhle


A reality check on how devastating it is to keep kids away from schools

A reality check on how devastating it is to keep kids away from schools

CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Kwame Owusu-Kesse and New York Times Education Reporter Eliza Shapiro join Stephanie Ruhle to discuss the lasting impact of closing schools and the argument to open them up as soon as possible.

May 18, 2020
Picture courtesy of HCZPicture courtesy of HCZ

Yahoo Finance

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February 7, 2020

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