Don't fight forces; use them. —R. Buckminster Fuller
It is fall, 1967. We're in Woodlawn, a segregated slum neighborhood abutting Hyde Park and the University of Chicago. Two notorious gangs, the Blackstone Rangers and the Eastside Disciples, have been trying to kill each other off for the last two years. Residents have become almost numb to the horror. The sound of gunfire hardly raises an eyebrow anymore. Parents are encouraging their kids to drop out of Hyde Park and Kenwood high schools in order to keep them alive a few years longer. Teenage boys who have already dropped out don't yet have the ludicrous hope of drug dealing to escape the poverty. Dope? Heroin? That's the white man's scourge; we're not gonna poison our own. Drug dealing would come later, in the 70s.
So the tough guy Rangers and Disciples make pocket money by shaking down 13-year-olds for their quarters. They have little or nothing in the way of clothes or cars, but they find ways to get guns and ammunition. Poppin' a D is the best way for a Ranger to make himself a man. Icing Jeff Fort, one of the Rangers' bosses, is every Disciple's wet dream.
The Reverend Arthur Brazier, executive director of the Woodlawn Organization (TWO), had fretted through countless sleepless nights until the day he sat down with the people from the Office of Economic Opportunity, one of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty agencies. Together, Brazier and OEO's Jerome Bernstein crafted a plan that just might stop the killing. They would create an alternative school, hire leaders of the Rangers and Disciples as instructors and counselors, and give the members of the gangs job training. In exchange for weekly paychecks and an opportunity for the future, the Rangers and the Disciples might put their guns away. Maybe. Brazier felt he had to try something. They called it the Youth Project.
Brazier has convinced Sam Sains, a New Yorker brought in in 1966 to run an adult job-training program for TWO, to remain in Chicago one more year to handle this alternative school. The federal government calls it the Youth Demonstration Project. If it works here, perhaps the idea can be implemented all around the country in slums where gang members are shooting each other up. Sains and his wife, Judith, had to think long and hard about staying the extra year, but in the end the challenge was too enticing for him to pass up. This is his story.
Sains, his suit jacket unbuttoned, his hands in his pockets, is walking around one of the youth project training centers. There are four centers in all--two for the Rangers and two for the Disciples--all within walking distance of 63rd Street between Stony Island and Cottage Grove avenues. If this thing works out, maybe next year Sains won't have to segregate the gangs in their own centers. But that's asking too much right now. It's enough to ask them to come to Youth Project headquarters, neutral territory, to pick up their checks each Friday. There, on that day, they put aside their urges to blow each other away. There's money at stake, after all. The rest of the week they think about how much they hate each other, how nice it would be to point a Saturday night special and pull the trigger.
Sains takes a deep breath. The air is thick with patchouli, Kools, and Lysol. One of the kids is working awfully hard. He's hunched over his classroom seat, the kind with a writing desk attached, his face only a few inches from the paper he's applying pen to. Sains drifts slowly toward him, hoping to catch a glimpse of his engrossing work. The other kids, a dozen or so, are sprawled in their seats, bored. Their desks are arranged in something resembling a circle, with the instructor, sitting in the circle with them, droning on about how they must learn to put aside a week's worth of bus fare after they receive their paychecks. One of the trainees rolls his eyes. Another yawns.
But that one, the fellow moving his pen so furiously, is he calculating a day's bus fare times five? That would be a good sign, for the class covered some elementary multiplication yesterday. Sains wondered then if any of the kids would understand what the value of such math practice was. Perhaps this one has a clue. Sains finally is in a position to see the paper. The trainee's shoulder jerks with every stroke of his pen, obscuring now and again Sains's view of his work. But within a moment or two, what the kid is doing becomes clear. He is drawing a picture. Sains squints to focus on it.
The kid has drawn the images of three different young men, all clearly labeled as gang members. The kid himself is a Disciple. The fellow in the drawing who is a Disciple is positioned in the middle of the page between two other poor saps who are Rangers. They're ugly as sin, unkempt, with messy hair and unshaved faces. One has a dagger sticking out of his temple, causing a woman's flowered hat to sit askew on his head. He also has an ax impaling his skull and a cigarette dangling from his lips. The other has no better sartorial sense or personal hygiene--reek lines radiate from him. He holds a bottle of cheap booze, and a cartoonish lump rises from where a baseball bat has been broken over his head.
Ah, but the Eastside Disciple in the middle of the picture is the epitome of grooming and good taste. He wears a neat business suit with a handkerchief in his breast pocket. He wears glasses and has short, perfectly parted hair. He clearly is a success, having achieved things his unfortunate rivals would never dream of. Perhaps he is a graduate of this very Youth Project. He may even represent the cartoonist himself. But there is one more distinction between the pictured Disciple and the Rangers. They with their Afros and broad noses are black; he is obviously white, a fact Sains can't help but notice as he watches the trainee's black hand sketch in the final touches.
The Office of Economic Opportunity under R. Sargent Shriver was one of the last bastions of liberal government activism, the type of department today's Republicans and other conservatives rail about in speech after speech. OEO sought to correct the ills of society, specifically those affecting minorities and inner-city residents, through direct government intervention and large outlays of money. The department was populated by bright, young, idealistic people like Jerry Bernstein.
A deputy director of OEO's manpower division, Bernstein in 1966 had been kicking an idea around in his head that was sure to make the powers that be squirm. Ever since gangs became a known phenomenon, authorities had tried to deal with them in only one way: break them up. Neither the police nor the schools, social service agencies, or anyone else had come up with an alternative to the allure of the gang. Bernstein had a notion. Rather than smash the gangs, perhaps they could be used. Why not take advantage of their leadership structures, Bernstein reasoned. Soon he was sitting down on a regular basis with Brazier, officials from Woodlawn's First Presbyterian Church, representatives of the Xerox Corporation, and a few other OEO staffers. It was a unique moment in time, the confluence of an ambitious community organization, a Fortune 500 company, the federal government, and the clergy, all attempting to work together to stem the brutal gang war. In the last two years the Rangers had swallowed up dozens of area gangs. They had grown from a motley group of young teens hanging out on the corner of Blackstone Avenue and 64th Street to an army of, by some estimates, over 4,000 members. The Disciples were the lone gang to hold off the tide. The shooting war had gone on since 1965 and left dozens dead, countless wounded, and Woodlawn in terror. The gangs, Brazier concluded in Chicago just as Bernstein had in Washington, couldn't be stopped but perhaps they could be channeled. Before long Brazier and Bernstein were huddling, and soon after that the rudiments of a plan for the Youth Project were being committed to paper.
The project would be funded through a $927,000 grant from OEO, the money going directly into a TWO bank account and not funneled through normal City Hall channels. Additionally, gang leader administrators and instructors actually would be paid salaries for their efforts. They would be called "subprofessionals." These peculiarities would rankle everyone from United States senators to Mayor Richard J. Daley to the average taxpayer, who, through a systematic disinformation campaign, eventually came to think of the Youth Project as that big-government debacle in the late 60s wherein gang kingpin Jeff Fort bilked the United States out of a million dollars.
Sam Sains's first exposure to TWO was certainly a splash of cold water to the face. He and several other Xerox Corporation officials had made the plane trip from New York. There was trouble. Xerox had been contracted to serve as educational consultant to TWO in an adult job-training program. Xerox had sent a number of other educational systems analysts to Chicago to oversee the program but each had begged to come home--Woodlawn, they found, was a scary place. Now TWO was getting hot; the program was stalled without someone here in Chicago to run the educational aspect of it. If Xerox couldn't place a person in Chicago, TWO just might terminate the contract and give its business to another company. Hank Smit, the Xerox account executive who handled the TWO contract, gave a warning to Sains. "Look, whatever you have to say, you better say it at this meeting," Smit said. "Because we're leaving and you're staying."
With Johnson's War on Poverty in full swing, TWO had begun working with OEO and Xerox to put together the Adult Manpower Training Program. The plan called for TWO, using government funding to hire Xerox as educational consultant, to give job training to Woodlawn men and women. Adult Manpower was to be a "coupled" program, an ingenious idea concocted by TWO's Don Androsa that utilized employers like doctors, dentists, and department store managers as instructors. Those instructor-employers would then select new hires from the pool of graduates. For instance, a dentist who was an instructor in the dental assistant course might hire a new receptionist from the group he taught. Or he might recommend graduates from his class to other dentists. Adult Manpower eventually trained and got jobs for 500 Woodlawn residents. Sains became engrossed in Adult Manpower.
Sains had never even heard of the Woodlawn Organization before Xerox asked him to go to Chicago. The assignment was a rush job. Hank Smit was fearful of Xerox losing the contract--that's how unhappy Don Androsa had been. As Smit flipped through the personnel files of Xerox educational consultants, the one marked "Sam Sains" caught his eye. If anyone could save Adult Manpower for Xerox, it would be this fellow Sains. As Sains walked through the airport concourse on the day he was to fly to Chicago with Smit and the other Xerox men, one of them handed him his airline ticket and a copy of a book by Charles Silberman, Crisis in Black and White. "Read it on the plane," Sains was told. That was the sum total of Sains's preparation for his TWO meeting. He found the book fascinating. Silberman, an investigative reporter, had traveled to Chicago to expose the organization as a rip-off group, as charlatans feeding at the public trough. Before he'd finished writing the book Silberman was working hand in hand with TWO. He'd found it was a respectable, hardworking, accomplished organization. He was turned around.
TWO's headquarters was a typical storefront on 63rd Street at Woodlawn Avenue, but rather than merchandise displayed on racks there was a switchboard by the door. The receptionist announced the arrival of the men by shouting across the storefront, "Reverend, them Xerox people are here!" Her office manner, Sains would learn later, upset Brazier no end.
The big front windows displayed a tattered sign bearing the name of the organization. Taped to them were a variety of sun-bleached posters carrying announcements from city agencies or heralding long-past TWO meetings. Inside, paint was peeling off the walls, some of the chips falling onto well-worn linoleum. Folding chairs were haphazardly arranged in the large open area. Near the back, partitions of cheap wood-grain board delineated the private offices of Reverend Brazier and his aide, Leon Finney Jr.
The things going on in the storefront were enough to make the jaws of well-dressed businessmen drop. Sains thought at once of the systems analysts who'd preceded him here. No wonder they wanted to bail out. Sains, though, could take it--he'd seen poverty in New York City. He'd seen Puerto Ricans and blacks trying to tear each other limb from limb to gain an inch of territory.
Today, someone who looked to be in charge was trying to evict a couple of noisy drunks. On the other side of the room a couple of women were busy ripping sheets of toilet paper one by one from a stack of rolls. They were putting the individual sheets into piles and making notes. Sains thought, What the hell is going on around here? But he and his Xerox colleagues were just in time for their scheduled meeting with TWO officials, so he promised himself he'd find out what the women were doing after it was over.
The meeting was called to order. Don Androsa was doing most of the talking, grilling Hank Smit. Smit had to make a lot of excuses for the Xerox guys who'd been here and turned tail.
Finally, Androsa stood up, slammed a sheaf of papers on the table, and shouted, "Enough of this bullshit! Where is this body you promised us?" Smit looked over at Sains, who had been sitting quietly out of the line of fire. Androsa probably had not even noticed him there. Sains stood up and said, "Here's the body. You're lookin' at him."
Androsa, his mouth agape, stared at the little man with the Bronx accent. "You? You!" he said and threw his hands in the air.
"Who did you expect?" Sains shouted back. "Moses?"
With that, Androsa was struck speechless. Then he smiled. He and Sains understood each other.
Once that meeting was finished, Sains was able to seek out the women placing sheets of toilet paper in piles. He approached one cautiously. "What are you doing?" he asked. "Rationing toilet paper? Are things that bad?"
The woman laughed. "Oh no, no, no," she said. "The A&P says there are 250 sheets in this roll. We know that these rolls don't have 250 sheets!" The women were consumer advocate volunteers for TWO. The organization also had volunteer advocates for welfare recipients, for those who'd had scrapes with the law, for those who had a hard time keeping up with their utilities payments, and for poor blacks in just about every other situation that left them feeling helpless. TWO had even started a clothing cooperative to get winter coats for adults and school kids. At times it might have seemed to a Woodlawn resident that TWO was his or her only friend.
TWO's headquarters were a constant bustle of activity. When too much was going on there, Arthur Brazier and Sam Sains would go next door to Kyros restaurant. It was a typical Chicago corner restaurant--owned by the eponymous Greek who himself was a big TWO supporter--with booths and a counter in front of a soda fountain. Kyros became an annex office. At times Brazier and Sains would be meeting there more often than in the storefront.
It was after one of those lunch meetings at Kyros early in the run of the Adult Manpower Program that Sains witnessed firsthand Woodlawn's gang war. The two men had left the restaurant and were walking down the street, making small talk. Brazier looked slightly distracted, which wasn't unusual considering the number of pokers he always had in the fire. But then Brazier steered Sains toward a gangway between two buildings. He was so subtle that Sains didn't know what was going on until they were nose to nose in the cramped space. Suddenly a series of gunshots rang out. Brazier had seen a group of Rangers walking down 63rd Street and a group of Disciples walking on Dorchester Avenue. Their paths would intersect at the corner. Brazier sniffed trouble even as Sains unwittingly chattered away.
Gunfire was nothing new to Woodlawn. The two groups of gang members fled immediately after emptying their guns. Within moments, people on 63rd Street went about their business as if nothing had happened. Brazier must have noticed Sains's saucer-size eyes. "I didn't want to scare you," he said. "That's why I didn't say anything."
As the might of the Blackstone Rangers increased in 1965 and '66, TWO tacitly endorsed the methods of the First Presbyterian Church and its pastor, the Reverend John Fry. The church had become the Rangers' headquarters. The gang held meetings there, had offices there, hung out there, and even deposited their guns in the church safe after what would turn out to be the fiasco of a July 4 disarmament agreement among the Rangers, the Disciples, the Chicago Police Department, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Fry called Rangers' leaders Eugene "Bull" Hairston and Jeff Fort his friends. Brazier and TWO, although repulsed by the gang's strong-arm tactics and criminal activities, thought Fry's methods of engagement the only way to keep any kind of rein on those young men.
When word got around about the nature of Jerome Bernstein's program, certain elements within TWO called for a radical shift in direction. The Pastors' Alliance, one of TWO's founding bodies, agreeing with the police who'd recently declared all-out war on the Rangers, was dead set against working with gangs in any way. Now that OEO and TWO were proposing to pay the Rangers and their equally terrifying rivals, the Disciples, to be gang leaders, the line of sanity had been crossed.
TWO leadership split into two factions. One, represented by Fry and First Presbyterian, continued the clarion call for closer working relations with the gangs and for TWO to publicly condemn CPD harassment of gang members. On the other side, the Pastors' Alliance, led by Father Martin Farrell of Holy Cross Church, began to agitate for complete support of the police in their gang war and for a promise that no TWO-sponsored or endorsed programs would include provisions for working side by side with the gangs. Farrell also called for TWO to repudiate Fry.
The rift came to a head after an incident in November 1966. That night police raided First Presbyterian Church, where they'd found the safe loaded with guns. Even though the Chicago police had been a signatory to the July 4 agreement to have the Rangers turn in their guns and have them stored in the church safe, the police gave the impression to reporters, some of whom had even covered the July 4 signing, that the cache was a shock and for goodness sake were ministers now joining this war against all that is good and decent? Farrell planned to present a series of resolutions at a TWO steering committee meeting scheduled for the following Monday. Farrell planned to call on TWO to endorse the district police commander's war against the Rangers, to denounce gang activity and the "glamour" surrounding it, to reject any government programs that included working with the gangs, and to hold a press conference to announce these policies.
That Monday morning Brazier and Fry visited Farrell and asked him not to offer his resolutions. By coming to him together, they hoped they could convince him that his was a minority view. They informed him that the Youth Project proposal would be completed soon and he could discuss his ideas during the debate over that.
Farrell shook his head. He was certain he had the steering committee votes to pass his resolutions that night, and he didn't at all care for Brazier and Fry's attempt to team up against him.
The steering committee meeting was dramatic. Farrell's first resolution, the call for stronger law enforcement, passed easily. Then a contingent of Blackstone Rangers walked into the meeting room. They stood along the periphery of the meeting room, their arms folded across their chests. Their mere presence unsettled the committee except for one member, Fry. He'd invited them. When Farrell and others objected to the presence of the young men, Brazier replied it was an open meeting and any community members could attend. Regardless of their reputations or criminal records, weren't the Rangers, too, part of this community?
Resigned to the truth of Brazier's argument, Farrell pressed on with his agenda. He tried to drum up support for the remaining resolutions but the wind had gone out of his sails. Farrell's supporters, vociferous before the entrance of the Rangers, now sat on their hands. Farrell watched as the second, third, and fourth resolutions were defeated. He stormed out of the meeting.
What promised to be a shattering rift simply disappeared when Holy Cross and Farrell's affiliated block clubs later notified TWO they were quitting the organization.
Flush with success, Brazier announced the Youth Project proposal at the November 21 steering committee meeting. With Farrell and his allies out of the way, the proposal won unanimous approval.
Even though many citizens and officials had been decrying gang programs as wastes of money, Brazier was confident in the days leading up to the December 1966 TWO delegates meeting. This Youth Project idea was different, not a run-of-the-mill gang program. He spoke forcefully at the meeting. "We have the missing ingredient--self-determination," he said. "Our program will be administered by the community, by TWO. And it will utilize the unique aspects and advantages of the existing gang structure. Many fear this. They say it won't work. We think it will."
The next week the Woodlawn Observer, TWO's community newspaper, blared the headline, "T.W.O. Seeks $700,000 for New Program." The paper gushed with news of Brazier's victory. The front-page story described a "revolutionary proposal for a program for gang youth in Woodlawn."
The Youth Project would have five major goals, the Observer reported: to provide basic job training for gang youths, to provide preeducation orientation and instruction, to get youths into meaningful jobs, to introduce youths to new and meaningful experiences, and to help urban youth leadership understand methods of community change.
"T.W.O. supports the police department in its efforts to eliminate criminal activity," Brazier told the Observer. "However, we do not believe that mere police action is the answer to the problems of gangs."
Now the hard work began for TWO. Somehow the organization had to get all the varied Woodlawn players to agree on a costly, unheard-of course of action. "Unity and support were essential," John Hall Fish wrote in his book Black Power/White Control. "The development and promotion of a TWO youth program involved an extremely complex process demanding skillful leadership. TWO had to develop a proposal which the federal government would fund, the Rangers and Disciples would accept, the TWO constituency would support..., the agencies would not block, the political leaders would tolerate, and for which community support could be engendered."
Whatever ducks TWO had lined up, Brazier and the rest had forgotten the biggest two. They'd neglected to inform the Rangers and Disciples they would be integral parts of the Youth Project. Jerome Bernstein himself didn't get around to discussing things with the leadership of the gangs until late February 1967. Only then did he learn that so far TWO had no real working relationship with either the Rangers or the Disciples. The battle to convince the community and TWO's constituent groups had been tough enough to cause Brazier to procrastinate on a meeting with gang leaders. Embarrassed, Brazier asked First Presbyterian officials to set up a meeting between himself and the Rangers.
Reaching accord with the Disciples was stickier. Brazier didn't have an intermediary to set up a summit with them, and it wasn't until March 1967, after several feelers and rejections, that the meeting happened. Woodlawn's number-two gang complained about not being involved earlier in the planning and approval of the Youth Project. They resented what they saw as preferential treatment of the Rangers. Privately, they saw the obvious advantages of participating in a program that would give them training, job opportunities and, most of all, steady pay to exercise their leadership. After they finished posturing, they accepted the Youth Project.
Leaders of both gangs then met repeatedly with Bernstein to discuss details. The deal was effectively sealed at a meeting on April 19, 1967. Bernstein told those assembled that the Youth Project wouldn't be approved by OEO if the Woodlawn gang war continued. Three days later, representatives of the Rangers and Disciples signed another truce, this time without CPD participation or press coverage. With something tangible to protect, the gangs would work at peace. This time, for a time, the truce worked.
The fact that City Hall was not involved in the planning of the Youth Project seemed no big deal after what Brazier and TWO had accomplished in the previous six months.
"I knew early on that Mayor Daley was going to fight us," said Sains in 1996, as he worked on a book about his days in the Youth Project. "All the TWO staff members talked about their experiences with him and expected him to come down hard. Reverend Brazier didn't care for many of the policies and philosophies of the mayor's office. We knew also that the principals of the schools were not happy about an organization setting up training centers, calling them alternative schools, and using gang members as instructors. It should be obvious that these people wouldn't be comfortable, because a community dictating its own way of getting things accomplished and determining its own destiny is a dangerous concept! When community organizations start saying, 'Hey, wait a minute! We can get the job done without these aldermen and the governor and the mayor!'--that's dangerous."
Even though the Youth Project was conceived and funded without Mayor Daley's cooperation, TWO had written into the contract that Daley could participate in the naming of an executive director. The wording gave Daley a "consent" privilege regarding the choice.
"It's important to note that Brazier had a lot of respect for Daley," Sains said. "What he liked most about Daley was he knew where he stood with the mayor--unlike others, aldermen and such, who Brazier might think were in his court and later would find out they were fighting him all along. Then too, the Youth Project was a relationship among a number of parties including the federal government." It might seem that federal officials would outrank a city's mayor in the hierarchy, but this was no ordinary mayor. Richard J. Daley was arguably the second most powerful politician in America, yielding only to President Johnson. OEO had no intention of rubbing Daley the wrong way. In hindsight it didn't matter what OEO's intentions were, because Daley had been rubbed the wrong way the moment it was agreed federal dollars would go directly into the TWO bank account.
In June 1967, the month after TWO, Xerox, and OEO signed the contract to make the Youth Project reality, a TWO advisory committee composed of several University of Chicago professors and welfare agency directors conducted a national search for an executive director. The committee eventually named a gang worker and probation officer from New York City to be the candidate. Daley rejected that choice. "He told me he felt a person from Chicago should get the job," Brazier said. The committee then named several other candidates, Chicagoans included, all of whom were rejected by Daley.
Daley then suggested two people for the job: a Chicago cop and a worker from the city's antipoverty agency. TWO asked Daley's candidates to come down for interviews. Both wrote letters declining the opportunity to be interviewed (the letters were suspiciously similar, each Daley nominee objecting to the "conditions" of the interview). TWO then rejected Daley's nominees out of hand.
Those familiar with the machinations of City Hall when it came to the funding or running of antipoverty programs by private organizations knew what Daley was trying to do. "It was an effort to punish TWO, which has several times embarrassed Daley on urban renewal and school issues," a University of Chicago professor and welfare worker told reporters at the time. The professor wisely chose not to be identified; he or she had no desire to be frozen out by City Hall in the future.
The tug-of-war over an executive director was a major stumbling block. The Youth Project was dead in the water without one. Neither Brazier nor Daley would budge. Brazier did not trust anyone that Daley might suggest because he felt that person would be an agent for Daley, the mayor's eyes and ears not only within the Youth Project but within TWO itself. Daley did not trust anyone that Brazier recommended because he felt that person would carry out the radical ideas of the organization. It became a matter of who really controlled the project--Brazier or Daley.
After it became obvious neither man would budge, Sains had a brainstorm. There was nothing in the contract that stipulated TWO couldn't name an interim director. Technically, an interim director did not have to be approved by both parties. Brazier had on his staff a bright, hardworking young man named Tony Gibbs. "Name this Gibbs fellow the interim director," Sains suggested to Brazier at TWO headquarters. "Then we'll be able to move ahead with the project. What are Daley and his people going to do?"
Brazier was quiet for a moment. Then he called for his secretary to summon Gibbs. He smiled at Sains saying, "I think we're going places now."
It is the summer of 1967. Sam Sains, staff members of TWO, and representatives of the Blackstone Rangers and Eastside Disciples sit around a long folding table in TWO's headquarters. Jeff Fort is the negotiator for the Rangers; David Barksdale for the Disciples.
Brazier and Leon Finney had found Sains so easy to work with during Adult Manpower, such a kindred spirit, that they asked him to quit Xerox and come work for TWO and run the Youth Project. Sains weighed his options, decided that Xerox was in better financial shape than TWO, and refused their offer. Nevertheless, TWO contracted with Xerox to be educational consultant to the Youth Project, with the provision that they reassign Sains to Chicago.
Sains looks around the table and sees varying levels of accomplishment. There is Arthur Brazier, pastor of the Apostolic Church of God, a bit player in the heady early days of TWO. The community organization was formed to fight the powerful University of Chicago in its plan to convert a huge swath of Woodlawn into a green buffer separating the dormitories and the homes of professors and students from the rough, mostly black neighborhood the university abuts. Thousands of Woodlawn residents would be displaced by the plan. But TWO held off the university and its allies in city and state government and the plan was scrapped. TWO had become a force to be reckoned with. Brazier eventually rose to the directorship of TWO, guiding it in its fights against slumlords, its efforts to bring new housing into Woodlawn, its battles with City Hall. (If there was anything Mayor Daley didn't like, it was a noisy neighborhood organization that had become too big for its own good.)
Also at the table is Hank Smit, a Xerox account executive. He'd contracted with TWO for the Adult Manpower Program as well as the Youth Project. This was back in the days when plenty of corporations--Xerox, Texas Instruments, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and many others--were forming educational divisions so they could get in on the lucrative employment-training-program business. Congress in the mid-60s had written laws allowing urban community organizations to run training and service programs funded directly through federal War on Poverty agencies. It was a strategy motivated more than somewhat by fear. Grassroots organizations had demanded input in government policy and programs. In an era when revolution seemed just around the corner, the demands of grassroots groups often were taken seriously. It was better, the thinking went, to have them with us than against us. Community organizations like TWO saw an opportunity to do well by their constituencies and big corporations saw an opportunity to get government business. Smit hitched his and Xerox's wagon to TWO. One day he would become an influential official in New York's city college system.
Also at the table were the young men Fort and Barksdale. Fort was menacing and profane. Barksdale was quiet and serious. Each had risen to the top in his respective gang through a combination of guile, cold-bloodedness, charisma, sheer physical strength, and good luck. Barksdale would die young of complications from diabetes. Fort would go on to become one of America's most reviled villains: nearly 20 years after the Youth Project, the FBI would determine that Fort and his El Rukns--a later incarnation of the Rangers--had conspired with Libya's Muammar Gadhafi to commit terrorist acts in the United States in exchange for millions of dollars. Today Fort is in federal prison.
Sains notices early on that Fort is probably functionally illiterate. Fort has a right-hand man, Edward "Benbolaman" Bey, his secretary. Wherever Fort goes Bey follows, always carrying a briefcase. During these planning sessions, whenever there is a dispute over one small issue or another, Fort turns to Bey, who clicks open the briefcase and produces a draft of the Youth Project contract. Fort eyes the document carefully, listens to a few words from Bey, and then makes his argument. Sains suspects Bey is telling Fort what the words on the paper are. Bey protects that briefcase as if it contains documents of vital national importance. He opens it wide enough to extract the paper he needs, never more. This day, Sains puts himself in a position to see what else is in that briefcase. Bey, just this once unaware of Sains's prying eyes, clicks it open and reaches in for the draft contract. It is the only item in the briefcase.
Fort rarely gets involved in general discussions. He sits impassively and listens to his staff people--instructors, counselors, and advisers. They do the griping. This day is typical. Fort's people rant and rave about some perceived lack of respect; they accuse TWO and Xerox and the federal government of using them for some as yet unspecified reason. First one then another gets up, stomps around the room shouting, "You can't use us as your house niggers anymore! If it wasn't for us, you'd all be out of business!" Fort lets them rant on. Suddenly he stands up and says, "That's it. No more. We're leaving." He and his people silently walk out the door. Fort has allowed his staff to let off steam. He knows what they need.
Fort and Barksdale will each be named an indigenous administrator of the Youth Project. Each will carry the title of center chief (there would be four training centers, two for each gang) at a pay rate of $6,000 per year. It was Bernstein's contention that neither Fort nor Barksdale had to be trained to become an administrator; each already had risen to the top of a cutthroat organization and now directed the fortunes of, in Barksdale's case, several hundred members, and in Fort's, several thousand. They had already proved themselves as administrators.
If Jeff Fort was functionally illiterate at the time of the Youth Project, neither was his Disciples counterpart, David Barksdale, comfortable applying pen to paper. Each of the center chiefs had to write regular reports detailing their own and their center's activities. What follows is a verbatim portion of Barksdale's first report.
My center have 3 community worker, Bernard Wood, Frank Holland and George Walker. A breif run down on each one job.
Bernard Wood job is to check up on people who are sick and have court appearl and also to check up on student who are not in school, to find out is they sick are in jail thats Bernard Wood job, and Frank Holland are to go from door to door to find out if their are any people in the community that need our help they don't have to be in Disciples because we fill that in or out of Disciples that don't mean you don't need help from this community because this was set up for our community because we do need something like this all over Chicago because this it make let's crime.
It's a safe assumption that the leader of the Eastside Disciples was more sophisticated and intellectually capable than most of his fellow Disciples members, indeed perhaps more than most people in legitimate business. He was in a position of authority within both the Disciples and the Youth Project. The leader of a gang does not rise to the top simply because he can beat the hell out of his competitors for that post. He must outthink and outstrategize them as well. The school system had turned out--and turned away, for whatever reason--this kind of young man.
But the Youth Project offered these young men, and society itself, hope. In ensuing paragraphs, Barksdale indicates an understanding of much that program was trying to accomplish. "My jobs," he wrote, "is to see that my center is ran like a center and not like a place that everyone come in just to get out of the rain and cold my center is ran and will keep on being ran like a center, the one reason this is good because we place with a young man job and we ran this our selves whith the help of other but we ran it."
He went on to write, "The student attudes have change they realize that without a education and with a jail record they are mark for life this prevent them for getting the job they are quacultily for."
Barksdale described the duties of Anderson Davis, one of the indigenous instructors at his center. "His jobs is to teacher Science and Negro History, to let our people and the rest now that we wasn't born slave because this is what they said so long but Anderson Davis assure them that we wasn't slave..."
The Blackstone Rangers in the middle and late 1960s were objects of curiosity, subjects to be studied like a newly discovered Stone Age tribe in the South Pacific. Ministers from activist congregations and graduate students from the University of Chicago and many other colleges from around the country came to Woodlawn to work with and study them. The gang's phenomenal growth and influence in the community seemed to tie in with a need felt by young people of that day for an alternative to the establishment. When they arrived, the graduate students and ministers had neat haircuts and were dressed fairly conservatively. Within weeks of their arrival, many of them were donning torn jeans and wearing bandannas on their heads. They were "getting down" with the Rangers, and the Rangers snickered behind their backs. Virtually every one of the students and ministers eventually found himself in no way prepared to deal with a group of fellows even the Black Panthers thought were street thugs.
Sam Sains has no interest in "getting down." He wears a suit every day, even today. It is August, the hottest part of the summer. Sains is conducting another in an endless succession of planning and training meetings prior to the start of the Youth Project sessions. There is no air conditioning in the TWO office. Sains and the Rangers already have begun to establish a rapport; slowly but surely they begin to trust this white man with the funny New York accent and he begins to trust these inner-city toughs. A Ranger stares at him and finally asks a question. "Why don't you ever take your tie off?"
It is the perfect time, Sains feels, to distinguish himself from the students and clerics who'd come to Woodlawn and tried to put on Ranger costumes. "I'm a businessman," Sains says. "I have things you may be interested in learning. I'll be happy to share them with you. But I'm not about to become one of you." The Ranger who'd asked the question nods his head, satisfied.
The Reverend John Fry of the First Presbyterian Church on Kimbark Avenue had had a unique relationship with the Rangers, and especially Jeff Fort, long before anybody thought of the Youth Project. It was only natural Fry's church would become one of the project's training centers. But his methods were controversial.
He'd allowed the Rangers to cover the walls of the church gymnasium with graffiti. The first time Sains saw those paint-splattered walls he thought, "This man Fry believes anything and everything young people want to do is OK."
Sains said last year, "I didn't care if the guys I was working with were the Rangers or not, certain things were acceptable and certain things were not. Young people have to know limitations. I attempted to build discipline into every level of the Youth Project. We were trying to teach these fellows not only how to add two plus two and spell 'organization,' but how to behave. When TWO staffers and Youth Project professionals discovered I planned to have the Rangers and Disciples fill out forms if they wanted to use certain materials or pieces of equipment, they scoffed."
"They won't go for that," one fellow said to Sains, the look in his eyes betraying his relief that he wouldn't have to tell them the news. Another said, "What do you care if they sign for these things or not?"
But Sains insisted on the sign-in procedure. It wasn't easy. It took many weeks. But eventually the indigenous instructors and administrators got the idea that Sains was serious and they grudgingly accepted the procedure.
In a later era, Reverend Fry would have been called an "enabler."
"A lot of people, in retrospect, have called Fry naive," Sains said. "He'd been in the marines. A pedestrian psychologist might say his behavior with the Rangers was the result of rebellion against an oppressive government as he came to see it when he was under strict military discipline. Rather than describe him as naive, I prefer to be charitable and simply say our philosophies differed."
Even though Fry had virtually nothing to do with running the Youth Project, when the program became the subject of congressional hearings in June and July of 1968, he was a star witness. One national publication even referred to the Youth Project as "his program." By that time, very little that appeared in the press or on TV and radio about the Youth Project bore any resemblance to the truth.
The Youth Project paid salaries to 37 Rangers and Disciples leaders to be center chiefs, instructors, and counselors and to recruit trainees. The program paid trainees $45 a week, higher than the average job-training program. For instance, JOBS (Job Opportunities Through Better Skills) project, which was run by the YMCA, Chicago Youth Centers, and the Chicago Boys Clubs, paid trainees $35 a week. The Youth Project spent about $1,500 per trainee and eventually enrolled some 500 trainees. JOBS spent $1,000 to $1,250 a trainee. The final OEO grant to TWO for the Youth Project would be $927,000.
All the trainees were recommended by the gang leaders. If Fort or Barksdale recommended three kids for the program, four Youth Project professionals, whose job it was to monitor the centers and guide the indigenous subprofessionals, would determine which centers they were to attend and give the new names to the appropriate center chiefs, who in turn would prepare the instructors and counselors. Ideally the new people would start on a Monday, filling the spots of three people who were deemed ready to graduate and begin job interviews.
The target participant in the Youth Project, as envisioned by the authors of the program, would be a hard-core high school dropout with less than eighth-grade tested attainment, no marketable work skills, no sustained work history, no positive contact with social service agencies or institutions, a low-income home, and/or a police record that would scare off normal employers.
Youth Project sessions were scheduled to run from 9 AM to 3 PM Monday through Friday, with the two following hours given to absentee follow-up, in-service training, preparation for the next day's lesson, and miscellaneous troubleshooting.
Bernstein and Sains had to set up a unique screening and evaluation system for the trainees. "We felt the typical mechanism that was used by schools, where the student read articles and the teacher would determine his or her level of comprehension and vocabulary--and this method is used even today by the city in its job training programs--was not an accurate way to test the people we were talking about. To take a young person who has very little knowledge of vocabulary because he's had very little use for it and then give him a vocabulary test is very unrealistic. These kids couldn't function at that level. Many of the young people we were working with were functional illiterates," Sains said.
"We were more interested in finding out the level at which our trainees could read the language and comprehend what they were reading--we didn't need to know whether or not they knew the definitions of certain words. You may ask, 'How would they be able to comprehend?' For that we had an interview. For example, we put together a little paragraph about TWO. We asked them to read the paragraph. Then we would ask them in their own words to tell us what they thought it meant. That worked very well. But it did not get into lists of words and definitions and meanings. That did not serve any purpose for us."
So the authors of the Youth Project devised a three-part selection-evaluation test. It included a series of very simple arithmetic problems, the comprehension of the TWO paragraph, and a personal interview to determine what the trainee's background was and how much he knew about the world.
"I recall talking with one young man," Sains said. "I asked him if he had any work experience. He said he had none. But we talked and I began to suggest certain things. I asked him if he ever helped the minister at his mother's church.
"'Yes,' he said. 'What did you do?' 'I helped him clean up after church and I helped serve food for meetings and gatherings.' We wanted him to understand that was a learning experience. That was considered work.
"These kids were all quite surprised that in fact they had a lot more experience than they ever thought. But no one had ever discussed these things with them. Their concept of work was, you went somewhere, got a job, you got paid, and it was something you hated but you had to do. We tried to get them to understand that a variety of experiences could be identified as work."
Another reason Youth Project professionals did these intake interviews was to determine which field--labor, food service, transportation, and so on--each trainee was suited for. "It was very important that they would be steered to jobs where they would most likely succeed, based on their own background and experience," Sains said.
The training was divided into two parts: basic education and the "world of work." Basic education originally was intended to be split into a two-track system for the first year of the program. The first track would be for those trainees who tested at or above an eighth-grade reading and math level, track two for those trainees who scored lower. When Sains and company found that only 2 of the first 500 enrollees tested at an eighth-grade level, the two-track system was scrapped. That was when Sains also scrapped the whole idea of trying to determine what grade levels the kids tested at.
TWO had contracted with the Chicago Urban League to act as the employment agency for Youth Project graduates, but Brazier and Sains had to deal with the main employers themselves. The Urban League had plenty of experience placing young men and women who'd at least graduated from high school. But these were Rangers and Disciples, young men whose appearance, bearing, and, often, criminal records automatically would get them crossed off any personnel department's list of potential hires.
"What Brazier and I did was to lay the groundwork and to get agreements with certain companies and institutions, like the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratories, and International Harvester," said Sains. "We got agreements from them that with these kids they would relax some personnel procedures. For instance, these employers had to recognize right up front that some of our applicants might have jail records and that they belonged to gangs. We would get a memo from the appropriate official of the company documenting our agreement that he would instruct his personnel people accordingly."
Lois Wille of the Chicago Daily News wrote a comprehensive wrap-up on the Youth Project after it had completed its first and only year and while the Senate hearing into it was in session. She described a typical Youth Project classroom. The instructor was named Danny, a 19-year-old high school dropout who wore an earring in his left lobe. His class of trainees, most wearing black head wraps under gray fedoras, sat around a table reading newspapers. The students were underlining words they didn't understand. If Danny didn't know the meaning of a certain word, he'd ask a professional adviser sitting nearby its definition. The word would be added to that day's list, a glossary of new words the trainees had learned.
Danny had been expelled from Hyde Park High School for gang activity. Now he was back in a regimented environment. After his class day was complete, he'd have to report to the Youth Project headquarters at three o'clock to be briefed on his next day's lesson.
Danny was fiercely proud of his position as instructor. "They don't want just anybody telling them what to do," he said. "It's got to be somebody they know who's for them. They trust me. They wouldn't take this from anybody else."
Poor Pat Lowery. She's about 30 years old, an attractive, fashionably dressed blond woman who's come to Chicago from a private company in Washington, D.C., that had sold the Wohlman Reading Method to OEO. OEO insists Sains and company use the eponymously named teaching method, which has been developed by a fellow who tested it on his own daughter. The results were outstanding: Wohlman's little girl has learned to read and comprehend far faster than her contemporaries. The material features images of flaxen-haired seven- and eight-year-old girls riding ponies in expansive suburban backyards. The Wohlman girl responded instantly to such visual cues, since she's flaxen haired and plays in an expansive suburban backyard. Unfortunately, none of the Youth Project instructors have ponies.
This evening Lowery attempts to moderate an in-service training session with the Rangers. She sits on a desk in front of the room and crosses her legs casually, a position she's probably taken dozens of times before when introducing instructors to this material. The problem this time is she's crossed a pair of comely legs in front of a roomful of testosterone-driven toughs. Sains immediately senses the heightened tension in the room.
Lowery directs the instructors to open their Wohlman training guides, complete with drawings of flaxen-haired little suburban girls. Amid a flurry of sniffs and giggles, one of the instructors asks, "'Da fuck is this?" One of his confreres chimes in, "Shee-it!"
It's a good bet Lowery has heard the terms "fuck" and "shit" before--but not in a classroom setting, in a critique of her reading material. She shifts uncomfortably on the desk, uncrossing her legs and pressing her knees tightly together. "Let's concentrate now," she says, as if addressing a group of boisterous nine-year-olds. With that, she loses whatever chance she has of focusing their attention on the pretty little girls riding ponies.
Now the whispers of derision become menacing. Though Lowery hasn't actually called them boys, the Rangers know when they're being addressed as such. They're street-gang wise guys, and their goal now is to impress upon Pat Lowery this fact.
The instructors grumble and posture, ignoring Lowery and talking among themselves of subjects far removed from expansive suburban backyards. They speak to each other of women of loose morals, describing them and their assets graphically, making certain that whenever they refer to them as bitches Lowery hears the word.
Lowery continues to lecture them, but now her voice cracks. She no longer sits on the desk but stands at attention, her frame ever so slightly turned toward the door, as if preparing for escape. She is scared to death and the Rangers love every minute of it. They are experts at making people uncomfortable.
One of them pulls a switchblade out of his pocket, opens it, and begins to shine it on his trousers. He slowly draws the sharp blade down the length of his thigh. He holds it up, admiring it as the light glints off it, and then draws the other side of the blade down his thigh.
Amazingly, Lowery's tone indicates she's demoted them a few notches from nine-year-olds. "You're not paying attention," she scolds. "Will you please be quiet!"
She may as well be speaking to them in Mandarin. The fellow shining his switchblade huffs hot breath onto it while those around him continue discussing promiscuous bitches. The atmosphere is about to explode.
Sains stands up and walks to the front of the class. Lowery's shoulders sag in relief. She gladly allows him to address her putative audience. "Let's call it a night now," Sains suggests. "We'll get back to this material another time."
"'Nutha ti-i-ime," a voice from the seats echoes.
Pat Lowery gathers her sheaves of paper and her books, loads her bag, puts her jacket on, and is out the door before Sains can wish her a good night. He and the Rangers look at the door in silence.
First one, then another, and finally all the instructors begin to laugh. ("I'd have laughed, too," Sains remembered last year, "if I weren't so annoyed at the arrogance of educational experts who proposed to teach the Blackstone Rangers of Woodlawn how to read with the aid of pictures of little girls riding ponies.")
Sains paces in front of the classroom for a moment. He takes a deep breath. "The government," he begins, "has experts that develop these things." He looks at their bored faces and concludes he can't buffalo the Rangers. "I have to admit this stuff wasn't very appropriate for our purposes. I'll see what I can do. If I can, I'll get this material changed. Or maybe we can approach it in a different way. I don't know." Some of the instructors nod in appreciation.
One of the fellows stays behind to talk with Sains after the session. "I don't know if the guys can handle this Pat Lowery," he says. "She's some nice-looking woman."
"So I didn't know whether the pictures of little girls on ponies or the stylish woman seated on the desk with her legs crossed was more of an obstacle to our Ranger instructors absorbing the Wohlman reading material," Sains said last year. "In either case, we never did get back to discussing that particular teaching method. Nor did we ever see Pat Lowery again."
There's a problem common to just about every start-up program, whether publicly or privately funded: the paperwork glitch. If some weekly reports or instruction sheets or equipment sign-out forms are delayed or incorrectly prepared, most people can go on about the business of keeping their program running. That is, most people who are professional and patient regarding these expected flubs of the business world. But in the Rangers and Disciples Sains was not dealing with professionals or particularly patient people.
It is a Friday morning in September. Joan Jeter, the secretary at Youth Project headquarters, is opening some interoffice envelopes. Sains, watching her, can't understand why she keeps shaking her head after examining the contents of each envelope. Her brow becomes increasingly furrowed as she progresses in her task. Finally she looks up to catch his eye, resignation on her face. "Uh-oh," she says slowly, "we're gonna have a problem!"
It can't be worse. The key to motivating the Rangers and Disciples to work with the adults of TWO, Xerox, and OEO--the single enticement to the gang members to commit their time and trust--is the weekly paycheck. Sure, other jobs programs offer trainees small weekly stipends to carry them through until they get jobs. But the Youth Project offers the leadership of the two gangs actual salaries, honest money!
So Jeter knows the implications of what she hasn't found in her interoffice envelopes this Friday morning. "What's up?" Sains asks her.
Trouble indeed. The indigenous instructors and administrators from the two gangs have been asked to pick up their paychecks at Youth Project headquarters for one very important reason: to get them together without anyone immediately pulling out a gun. The headquarters and environs have been declared neutral territory. Each member knows that causing trouble--signifying, say, or fighting--at headquarters will jeopardize the program and his weekly paycheck. All Sains has to do is keep the adults' end of the bargain.
The members of the Blackstone Rangers and the Eastside Disciples are as prompt this Friday morning as they have ever been in their lives. At 9 AM sharp they start streaming through the front door, standing tall before their rivals and waiting, quiet and wary, for Sains to get to the business at hand.
Sains slowly walks to the front of the room, his mind racing, trying to figure out the words that will keep the Youth Project from collapsing almost before it starts. He decides Joan Jeter's simple words most effectively convey the message. "Gentlemen," he begins, "we've got a problem."
Then Sains drops the bombshell. The reaction is as chaotic as if he had actually detonated an explosive. For two long weeks the Rangers and Disciples have forced themselves to sit in school rooms, stifling their every impulse to yell, to throw a punch, to tell some guy in a suit to fuck off, to grab a miniskirted blond woman by the arm and show her what a powerful grip feels like, to light up a square or a joint, to gulp some MD 20/20, to unzip their pants and piss against a wall, to throw the handouts and quizzes back in the face of whoever handed them out, to put their finger on a trigger and target some ugly D or a cop, to be everything they've fantasized themselves to be. They've resisted those urges, controlled themselves in ways they'd never done before, all in exchange for a piece of paper that has their name and a weekly salary imprinted upon it. It might be the hardest thing they've ever done and now they want what is rightly theirs.
Sains knows it will do no good to tell them to calm down. So he listens to them holler. One of the first questions thrown his way is: "Did you get paid?"
"Yes, I did," Sains replies. Oh, that is the clincher. This is precisely the kind of credibility gap Sains has been trying to overcome. They trust no one in authority (other than their gang leaders), no white man, no adult, no one in a suit or uniform, no one. They are the loose cannons of society. Long before this day they rejected all the institutions and role models that help shape the behavior and thoughts of youths in most other cultures. They've grown up in a moral universe of their own creation. The Youth Project is trying to reel them back in, trying to convince them in some small way to accept the rules of a society in which they can work. Yet right off the bat the Youth Project lets them down.
Sains explains to them that they are employees of the Woodlawn Organization, while technically he is working for Xerox Corporation. It doesn't matter, he tells them; if the Youth Project continues indefinitely or if it is shut down tomorrow, he still will get paid. But this technicality fails to impress them. All they want are their paychecks.
"We ever gonna get paid?" one guy shouts.
"You will," Sains says. "This was a mistake. Call it sloppy paperwork or bad bookkeeping or whatever you want--someone or something screwed up. I'll see what I can do. I'll try my best to get you paid Monday." Sains waits a moment as they chew on what he's said. There is no Hollywood moment when they throw their trust behind him. But they seem resigned to the reality of spending another penniless weekend. They begin walking out of Youth Project headquarters one by one and in groups of three and four. Finally, except for Joan Jeter working quietly at her desk, Sains finds himself alone in that cavernous old Walgreens. Two thoughts go through his mind. One, Why did this kind of thing have to happen now, to these kids? And two, I'd better think of something fast to get those paychecks by Monday.
They'll get paid Monday, but what happens Friday won't be the last time they're betrayed.
One of the instructors is steaming. He stands before Sains's desk in the Youth Project headquarters, staring him in the eye. "Hey," the kid says, "you told me I was gonna get $100 a week. I got $72. You tryin' to fuck me over?"
Sains asks, "Did you look at your check stub?"
"Didn't you have a piece of paper attached to your check?"
"Yeah," the kid says, "I threw that out."
Sains turns the confrontation into the next day's lesson plan. He composes and runs off a number of new handouts. For the world-of-work portion of the session, the handouts explain how to read a check stub and what the withholding process is all about. For basic education, he has the instructors and trainees calculate what the withholding should be on a number of hypothetical paychecks. "Everything," Sains said last year, "became a learning experience."
It is an unseasonably warm late afternoon in October. Sam Sains sits on a marble bench in the lobby of a North Michigan Avenue office building with a dozen or so instructors from the Youth Project. The young black men wearing black bandannas sit exaggeratedly erect and eerily quiet as the all-white office workers scurry past them, sneaking nervous glances over their shoulders. This is still a time when the presence of a black man in a downtown office building who isn't shining shoes creates a stir. Who knows what thoughts are going through the minds of the secretaries and the accountants who see this menacing crew. Has the revolution finally arrived?
They certainly wouldn't believe these Disciples are waiting patiently to go upstairs for an in-service training session on the uses of overhead projectors. But they are.
"When the Youth Project started up, there were companies like 3M, General Electric, and many others that had education divisions because the government was putting a great deal of money into programs to help the underprivileged," Sains said last year. "These companies made educational hardware, overhead projectors, copying machines, machines that made transparencies, machines that you could put a card into with your voice recorded on it and it would come out matched against the proper way of saying something. There was a great deal of money to be made in selling this hardware to programs like ours. 3M had equipment that I thought could be extremely useful and beneficial for our people, particularly the overhead projectors and transparency makers. When the 3M salespeople came around the Youth Project office, I told them we needed training sessions for our young people in how to use the equipment."
One of the 3M salespeople nodded his head. "Sure," he replied, "we'll send someone down. Give us a classroom and we'll teach them all how to use this equipment."
"Nope," Sains said. "That won't do."
The salespeople looked at Sains quizzically. "Don't get me wrong," Sains said, "I want them trained. But I want them trained at your 3M center downtown, the same place where schoolteachers go to be trained on your equipment."
The salespeople huddled together and whispered for a moment. They all shook their heads. Their spokesman told Sains he was sorry but he didn't see how that could be done. "Come on, Sam," he said with a little laugh, trying to take the edge off what he was saying. "How are you going to get guys like these downtown, and into our building no less?"
"That's my problem," Sains said. "If you want to sell this equipment, and if I'm not mistaken you'll be in line for a pretty substantial commission if you do, you have to train these guys at your facility."
Sains and the salespeople argued back and forth for a few minutes until they were convinced he meant business. Finally, their spokesman said with a shrug, "OK," as if Sains, though a customer, was deranged.
So now the Disciples instructors have disembarked from TWO's rickety bus and they sit waiting in the lobby of the building that houses 3M's Chicago offices. The building's entire security staff seems to have gathered to keep an eye on this group. The Disciples enjoy the show they're putting on.
Reverend Brazier arrives in the lobby. He looks right and left, and when he sees the group of Disciples he appears panicked. "Where's Mr. Sains?" he asks.
Sains, sitting in the middle of the group, rises off the bench. "Here I am," he says, "I haven't changed color yet!" The Disciples drop their cool, just for a moment, to laugh.
Now the group goes upstairs to the 3M training facility. The instructor is a nice gray-haired old lady. The Disciples don't faze her a bit. They, in turn, are fascinated by the machines. 3M functionaries scurry in and out of the room. Now a PR person tells Sains and Brazier the company would like to take photos of the session for use in its in-house magazine. At first the Disciples say, "No pictures." They like the idea of being outlaws who can't be photographed. They also like saying the word "no"; it's an exercise in power. After a few minutes they relent a bit. "You can take pictures but not of our faces," one says. Eventually, they give in. "OK," someone says, "you can take all the pictures you want."
Those pictures not only appeared in the 3M magazine, they were entered into the Congressional Record during Senate hearings in the summer of 1968. Senator John McClellan of Arkansas, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and a fierce foe of the Youth Project (and, for that matter, all War on Poverty programs), had to be convinced these so-called indigenous instructors had done anything other than fleece the American taxpayer. McClellan merely grunted when Brazier displayed the photos of the 3M training session.
It is the week before Christmas. Sains walks into one of the centers and finds a kid, on the sly, working on a flyer for an upcoming "set"--a party, in the argot of the day. "What are you doing?" Sains asks. The kid makes a motion to cover up his work and then shrugs. "Y'got me, man," he says. "I'm makin' a invite for this set." He lifts the sheet to give Sains a better view. "I know, I know. You probably don't want me doin' this here." He begins to crumple the paper.
Sains places his hand on the kid's arm. "Don't do that," he says. "Let me see this." Sains straightens out the sheet and examines it. "Look here," he says, pointing, "you've got a misspelling."
"So you want to do this well," Sains says. "You can do it here but you have to do it the right way." The kid takes his sheet back and tries again. Sains nixes several drafts. He asks the kid, "Do you want people to see this and say, 'What kind of character made this?'" Finally the kid turns in an acceptable copy. As a reward for his diligence, Sains allows the kid to use the Youth Project mimeograph machines to run off as many copies as he needs.
"He was proud of the result," Sains remembered. Soon, in exchange for learning how to edit their material, many of the Rangers and Disciples earned mimeograph machine privileges. They ran off flyers for dances, parties, and meetings.
"It was an exciting kind of thing for me," Sains said. "We hadn't intended to try to prove this point but it was proving itself. Teaching these trainees how to be careful, how to take pride in their work, how to earn privileges, were all very significant pieces of the program. But how do you measure that success? The senators and the evaluators wanted to see hard test scores. They wanted impersonal gauges of success. But to me, these anecdotal lessons were much more valuable than saying I got these guys to read two grade levels higher."
When the Youth Project was in full swing, Sains would take the 6 AM commuter train from his home in Glencoe, where his wife Judith wanted to live, into North Western station. Depending on the weather, Sains would either walk or take the bus from the station to the State Street subway. "When I got down to State Street it was all white," Sains remembered. "Then I got on the train heading south and little by little it became black. By the time I got to my stop at Dorchester Avenue it was all black. At night the process reversed." Sains's one-way commute took about two and a half hours.
When Sains climbed down the Dorchester station steps he was within sight of the Woodlawn Avenue and 63rd Street intersection. An old bank building stood on the southwest corner. TWO did its business at that bank, and kept offices for a security company it ran on the second floor. On the northeast corner were two adjoining stores-- candy and sundries--next to which was Kyros, and one door down were the TWO headquarters. A Walgreens stood on the southeast corner. It would close during Sains's term on the Adult Manpower Training Program. When the Youth Project geared up the vacated drugstore became that program's central office.
Sains usually got into the office around 8:30 or 9. He stayed until 5:30 or 6 and got home about 8 or 8:30. His only child, daughter Ariann, would have eaten dinner already.
"It was a frustrating day," he remembered. "It was a tiring day."
The four Youth Project centers and the program's headquarters were all within walking distance. Sains would visit each of the centers every day. "It surprised the TWO staff, including Leon and Brazier, that I always walked around the neighborhood," Sains said. "I used to tell them, 'That's the way I get to know the neighborhood.' Even to this day, when I walk around there people say hello to me and remember me walking around in 1967 and '68."
Brazier took note of Sains's hours as the days became shorter. By November Sains would be leaving the office long after the sun had gone. Brazier offered a word of warning: "Don't stay around too long."
"I never had any incidents," Sains shrugged.
The real danger was the possibility that the Youth Project would be shut down by its enemies. "Just about every night when I'd come home from work, Judith would greet me with the same question--'Are we leaving today?' It must have been hell on her. With all the indecision hanging over the project, Judith never knew from one week to the next where we'd be living."
Sam Sains told this story often to Ariann. When he was a little boy he loved chickpeas. An elderly man with a wagon would walk each day through the Brownsville neighborhood in the Bronx. A big pot full of chickpeas simmering over a charcoal fire sat in the wagon. "I'm crazy for chickpeas," Sains would tell his friends. During the Depression, when a kid was bar mitzvahed neighbors went to the synagogue even if they didn't know the kid, just because they knew that the kid's relatives would throw bags of chickpeas down from the balcony in celebration.
Sains dreamed of the day he could buy a white bag of chickpeas. The normal brown bag of chickpeas cost a penny. The white bag cost two pennies; only big shots bought the white bag. It took quite a while for Sains to save two pennies. One day he did it. He couldn't sleep that night, so delicious was his fantasy of walking down the street with a white bag of chickpeas.
The next morning Sains headed to the spot where he knew the chickpea man would be. On the way Sains came across a beggar. Street beggars were common in Brownsville. Sains's mother constantly reminded him that charity is very important. "You must give," a little voice kept saying in Sains's head as he came nearer the beggar.
This was Sains's dilemma. If he gave the beggar a penny he'd be back where he started, buying the old brown bag. If he didn't give the beggar anything, how would he reconcile that with what his mother had taught him? The conflict roared in his mind. Sains knew what he had to do, and because of that he felt his mother had done something terrible to him. She'd implanted this guilt in his heart. "Why would she do something like this to me?" Sains thought as he handed the beggar both his pennies. One penny meant nothing to him at that point; it was the white bag or nothing.
Sains walked toward his home, his head down, shuffling his feet, angry with his mother. She'd also told him not to walk in puddles, and Sains saw a big one down the block. He headed toward it and then raised his foot and stomped in it.
Just as he got to the end of the puddle, Sains lifted his leg especially high and brought it down with more force than before. The splash cleared a large area of water. Lo and behold, Sains saw two pennies on the pavement momentarily cleared of water! He was overwhelmed. He bent over, put his fingers into the water, and picked them up. They were as shiny as if they'd come directly from the mint. Sains stared at the pennies and thought of his mother. "What a fantastic woman she is!" he marveled. She'd always told him that in times of disappointment and need things would work themselves out. He'd never really listened until that moment. Now the white bag of chickpeas was the furthest thing from his mind. "That made an impact on me that I've never forgotten," Sains would say to Ariann each time he told her that story. Things always seemed to work themselves out.
Even as a kid Sains despised a bully and sided with the underdog. "I've always believed the lowest person on the totem pole should have the same opportunities and benefit from the same resources others have." Whether they were ragamuffin kids in knickers and pancake caps or operatives from the mayor's office in pin-striped suits, bullies always bothered him.
Sains first encountered bullies among his fellow Jews. Brownsville was a pretty colorful neighborhood in those days. Murder Incorporated, with Dutch Schultz and others like him, was born there. Sains couldn't understand the way some men did business in Brownsville. One day Sains asked his father, a shopkeeper, how the man who ran the candy store down the street could stay in business. He'd never seen very many kids going into the place, and those who did spent mere pennies. "Don't ask questions!" his father responded sharply. Much later Sains learned the candy store was a front for a bookmaking operation.
Sains's father was nothing if not law-abiding, yet he still had to do business the Brownsville way. A group of local men offered protection to people running businesses in the community. They even put out a little newspaper that Sains would occasionally thumb through in the shop. One time, Sains's father left the store with Sam in charge. The old man said, "I'm leaving an envelope here. If someone comes in and asks for it, give it to him." When his father had left, Sains held the envelope up to the light and saw two dollar bills, the weekly protection payment, in it.
Eventually a man wearing an overcoat and a derby hat came in. "Hey kid," he said, "where's your father?" Sains shrugged. The man picked up a can of sardines and studied it. Finally he said, "Did he leave anything for me?" The man looked awfully tough but Sains didn't want to give him the envelope. "I don't think so," the young boy said, his voice sounding small. The man stared at Sains for a long moment. Then he turned around and walked out without saying another word.
When Sains's father came home he saw the envelope sitting under the cash drawer. He said, "The man didn't come?"
"He came," Sains said, "but I didn't give him the envelope." His father became upset. Little Sains said, "Why should you give them anything?"
"Don't ask questions," his father shouted. "Next time he comes in, you give him the envelope!"
Too late. Sam Sains had already started a lifelong campaign against bullies.
When Sains was ten years old and still a student at PS 134, he became the leader of the neighborhood kids, a gang.
Sains and his friends were mostly first-generation Americans or, in a few cases, European immigrants themselves. Their parents had told them stories time and again about the trials and tribulations they had suffered in Europe, so those kids were on guard for people who didn't like Jews. The kids knew anti-Semitism was a fact of life and prepared themselves for it.
They defended their neighborhood from incursions by similar gangs from surrounding neighborhoods. In those days the street fighting between gangs was not over drugs or business concerns but over territory and security for the residents of each other's neighborhoods. The differences between the gangs were cultural. They represented ethnic groups--the Irish, the Jews, the Italians.
When they fought, they used fists, threw rocks, and swung baseball bats. Occasionally they'd shoot homemade rubber band guns. Sains enjoyed making and testing them, experimenting with different materials as bullets and different rubber band configurations to see which produced the most firepower. Sains found that small chips of linoleum made the best projectiles, their sharp corners sure to draw a spot of blood and a good deal of pain from an intended victim.
It was a more innocent time. Even so, Sains might come home with a bloody head. "How did this happen?" his mother would demand.
"Aw ma," Sains would say, "I fell down." Or, "I was playing ball and got hit with a bat."
"You've got to be the clumsiest kid in the neighborhood," Sains's mother would say skeptically in Yiddish.
When Sains was 11, his family moved to Flatbush. The same territorial dynamics held there. One day in Flatbush Sains was chased by a group of Irish kids who'd come into his neighborhood looking for a target. He was coming back to his father's new store after making a delivery. The Irish kids cornered him on a vacant lot across the street from the store. They called him "kike" and "Christ killer." Their leader, a guy named Farrell, his face a couple of inches from Sains's, said, "Why don't you go back where you came from?" Then Farrell wrote "Dirty Jew" on the wall with black pitch while his pals cursed and pushed Sains. Then they punched him repeatedly in the head and stomach. It was a typical assault, nothing that wasn't happening every day.
The first blacks Sains saw were those who came into the Jewish neighborhood on Friday evening, the Sabbath, to light the lamps in the synagogues.
Later, in Flatbush, some black men came into the neighborhood to do odd jobs, run errands, and clean up the yards around people's homes. They would come into Sains's father's store for lunch. It seemed they bought only canned sardines and kaiser rolls.
"Why do they always buy sardines?" Sains asked his father. "Because they're black?"
"No," the old man said. "Because they're poor. Sardines are very healthy and very cheap."
Later in life, Sains would recall reciting a ditty with the rest of the kids in his neighborhood. He'd come to understand how a child learns bigotry without even knowing it. When it was time to choose sides for a baseball game, each of the team captains would put a foot next to his counterpart's. Then one would say, Eeny meeny miney moe. Catch a nigger by the toe. Neither Sains nor his friends realized "nigger" had become a normal part of their vocabulary.
In 1949, fresh out of New York University with a master's degree in education and rehabilitation, Sains looked for work. It's interesting to note that the admissions counselor who first viewed his application to college had told him, essentially, to get lost. "Mr. Sains," he said, "I'll be frank--a fellow like you can't succeed in a university." Sains had failed algebra and geometry and had graduated from high school thanks to the generosity of his guidance counselor and principal. He probably would have dropped out of high school had it not been for two industrial arts teachers who took him under their wing. Their interest in him eventually inspired him to take up industrial arts education himself. It also drove home the lesson that someone has to take the extra step to reach a kid who appears to be a lost cause.
Sains bristled at being told he couldn't do something. He offered a deal to the admissions counselor--if he could pass summer makeup courses at his high school then he could attend the college. The counselor seemed impressed by Sains's determination. "OK," he said, "I'll take a chance on you." So even though he'd just spent four years in the U.S. Navy fighting in World War II, Sains returned to a high school classroom. It wasn't easy but he passed his math courses, and the admissions counselor welcomed him to NYU.
After college Sains found two jobs. During the day he taught in a New York City public high school. In the evening he worked at the Henry Street Settlement House on the Lower East Side. At Henry Street he was a youth worker who acted as a street counselor to rival Puerto Rican and black gangs, as well as a teacher of carpentry and arts and crafts.
"I had a great deal more freedom in the settlement house than I had in the public schools," Sains said. "I eventually became frustrated with the stupid rules and regulations of the board of education."
The Lower East Side of New York was the site of warfare between black and Puerto Rican gangs. "They were looking to bring dope into the community," Sains says. Both gangs came to the settlement house regularly for recreational activities. "I was one of the street workers. We went between these groups to try to resolve problems and keep conflicts from erupting. In those days there was an organized system of ambassadors from each gang that would come and meet and negotiate terms of a rumble--where it was to take place, the types of weapons to be used. My job was to see if we could get to the site of the planned battle ahead of time to prevent it from happening."
One year Sains traveled upstate to help run the settlement house's summer camp for inner-city kids. He became friends there with a young man named Jaime who was Jamaican. Sains was in charge of a group of kids who'd gone up early to prepare the camp. The kids were helping out at the camp as a condition of their release from jail on probation. Jaime was a social worker who'd come up to learn how the Henry Street people handled such kids. "In my cultural ignorance I thought he was a black Jew! You couldn't get a finer name for a Jewish kid than Hymie," Sains said.
"We began to talk about blacks," Sains says. "Jaime was black but quite different from the blacks that I knew in New York City. He spoke different, looked different--he had sharper features.
"We decided we would go into town to get our hair cut. I walked into the barbershop with Jaime and said, 'We want to get our hair cut.' The barber looks at me and then grabs me by the arm and takes me aside."
Sains might have been streetwise in certain ways, but he was naive in others. The barber, indicating Jaime with a slight nod of his head, said, "You know, I can't cut his hair."
"Why not?" Sains asked.
"If I were to cut his hair," the barber explained, "I could lose my business."
Sains still didn't understand. "I was so innocent about these things. In those days people assumed that if you were white you would understand that whites don't do business with black people."
Sains puffed out his chest. "Wait a minute," he said. "If you're not gonna cut his hair, you're not gonna cut my hair!"
"That's OK by me," the barber said.
"That," Sains remembered, "was my first real exposure to active prejudice."
His first teaching job was at Midwood High School in Brooklyn. "The kids that I worked with there were mostly Italian," Sains said. "They came from the Canarsie area, which was swampland with shacks on stilts. Many residents were squatters. The area had no city services and residents paid no taxes. Canarsie was an isolated place, not really considered part of the city by most New Yorkers.
"Midwood was referred to as a 'silk-stocking' school," Sains said. Most students there came from money and were college bound. But the Italians of Canarsie fell into the school's attendance boundaries. "These were 'problem kids' as far as the school system was concerned," Sains said. "So they were assigned to me in the industrial arts program because the shop was in the basement and that way those kids would be out of the way. The school felt that if kids weren't going to go to college then they must learn to work with their hands. I was not very happy with that philosophy. I have no prejudice against academic programs but I felt there had to be more in the life of a young person than studying books. A way to find the true talents of students, college bound or not, was to discover what they could create with their hands.
"But my kids were relegated to a shop class in the basement. The school administration may as well have said outright--'We don't want them to contaminate the rest of the school!'"
Sains assigned the class to make letter openers. But the school administration was so concerned that the kids would use their letter openers as weapons that it insisted they use metal almost as thin as aluminum foil. When the kids finished their openers, they found they didn't open letters. "There's something wrong here," Sains thought at the time. "I just don't understand the philosophy of this school system."
When Sains found out that one kid named Mickey was a welder, he asked the student to build tool racks and a cabinet for the classroom. "We had some surplus metal out of which he made the most gorgeous tool holders you could imagine. He was quite talented," Sains remembered. "He illustrated to me how you can take a person's interest and use that as a motivation for learning. Mickey learned a great deal just by making a tool rack and cabinet for me. He had to lay out the whole plan, deciding what tool fit where and how to calculate the most effective and efficient use of the space. The process involved a lot more problem solving than if he had been forced to take geometry. He actually put geometry to use in building the tool rack. That was one of the key episodes in my process of learning how young people learn best."
Because the classroom was isolated in the basement of the school, Sains let the kids listen to the radio during class. Occasionally, they'd sing or dance to the big band music of the day. The kids had been told they were on a track to failure so they were more unruly than the future college men and women upstairs. "I figured dancing or singing was better than throwing erasers around," Sains said. "We developed a pretty good relationship. We had an agreement--in exchange for radio privileges, they would work seriously on their projects."
The principal, a Dr. Ross, walked in the classroom one day and stood in the doorway with his mouth agape. The majority of the kids were working but a couple were dancing. When the principal finally regained the use of his tongue, he lashed into Sains in front of the class. "What are you doing here?" he demanded. "Don't you realize this is a public school? An institution of learning? A radio in the classroom! This is unheard of!"
Now the kids stopped dancing and working. They watched carefully to see what would happen next. The only sound in the room was the music from the radio. The sheer joy and energy of the tune was ludicrous in the tense situation.
"I had my choice of actions," Sains said. "I could have ordered one of the students to turn the radio off, tacitly acknowledging the principal's authority, keeping myself out of hot water for the moment. But I knew this same type of confrontation was bound to happen again at Midwood. And Midwood wasn't unusual. My kids were a nuisance to them.
"On the other hand, I knew the principal was wrong to scold me in front of those kids. If he had a quibble with whatever method I was employing at the time, he should have spoken with me privately about it. So, I figured since he had done what he'd done, I would respond in front of the kids as well.
"'My professional license is as a teacher of industrial arts,' I said, 'not as a policeman. I have no intention of being a policeman. If I feel my students will work more productively in a relaxed environment, that's what we'll do.'"
Once again the principal was dumbfounded. "It's obvious," Sains said to him, "that I don't fit into this school." Ross spun and walked out of the classroom. The kids surrounded Sains and patted him on the back. They also apologized for getting him in trouble. "I hadn't intended on playing the hero to them but that's exactly what I'd become. I tried to calm them down and, with no false modesty, motioned for them to stop idolizing me. 'No,' I told them, 'you didn't get me in any trouble. But this whole incident clearly indicates Midwood is not the place for me to be.'"
The following day Ross apologized to Sains for having flown off the handle in front of the kids. Perhaps, he suggested, he and Sains could work their differences out. "Too late," Sains said, "I'm giving you my two-week notice. I'm leaving the system." Sains was weary of butting his head against a brick wall. Money wasn't an issue; he still worked at the settlement house.
Sains applied for a transfer to Cooper High School in Harlem. "For most teachers, going to Harlem was like going to Siberia," Sains said. In fact, the school system used Harlem schools as a dumping ground for teachers they wanted to get rid of.
Midwood had a fairly decent shop class in the basement, but Cooper had no industrial arts facilities. Sains was assigned to teach in a regular classroom. "I had no tools, no equipment, no workbenches," Sains said. "But that didn't stop me. We, the kids and I, went about building a shop as part of their learning. Some would bring tools in. Some would bring crates in for the wood. I threw everything out of the classroom and remade it into a shop. That shop became the centerpiece of the school. The principal, who used to call me 'Peck's Bad Boy' because I'd always do things and then ask permission afterward, liked to show that shop off to visitors to the school."
At Cooper, two of Sains's classes were populated with pupils labeled CRMD--children with retarded mental development. He also taught two classes whose students spoke only Spanish. The city had a rule that kids couldn't work in a shop until they'd taken a safety test. Unfortunately, the school system would not allow Sains's Spanish-speaking classes to take the test in their own language. "So for about two weeks at the beginning of the school year, I sat and looked at them and they sat and looked at me," Sains said.
Sains's supervisor would visit the class every week to ask if the kids had taken the safety test yet. "How do you expect them to take it. It's in English," Sains said. "That's the only way they can take it," the supervisor said.
Sains thought, "I just don't understand." But then he got an idea. He asked Judith and a friend to translate the safety test into Spanish. "I could see their eyes light up when I gave it to them," Sains said. The next time the supervisor stopped by, he saw the kids working. "You've given them the safety test, right?" he asked.
"Yep," Sains said, handing him the pile of completed tests. "Here they are." The supervisor stared at the top test and then dropped the pile on Sains's desk. "What the hell is this? I can't read this stuff!" he said.
"Now you know how the kids feel about your test in English," Sains said.
"You're going to lose your job!" the supervisor warned.
"Fine," Sains replied. Sains could afford to be cocky; he had the Henry Street job, which was more rewarding to him anyway. But the supervisor let it slide. "It turned out that the Spanish-speaking kids were extremely talented and creative," Sains remembered. "In fact, when my wife and I married they made our little flower holders out of tin cans that we got from the cafeteria."
From 1955 through 1964 Sains worked for first the Plainview and then the Copiague school districts. Both were located on Long Island, where he and Judith were living by that time. Sains helped oversee the building of Plainview's first high school and set up the industrial arts department. He also created a vocational technical program there with federal funding.
In 1964 Sains went to suburban White Plains, where he set up and ran the cooperative work program. He also served as the district coordinator of industrial and vocational education.
At White Plains, Sains acted as a sort of employment counselor. Once again, there were kids whom the administration and the teachers wanted out of the school as quickly as possible. If they couldn't get rid of them permanently at least they'd be rid of them for much of the day; these students were permitted to leave at one o'clock or even earlier so they could go to work.
"Normally, the position was given to someone who'd give it cursory attention. It was the dirty work that somebody had to do," Sains said. "The important thing was to get the problem kids out of the building before they infected the rest of the student body. What the principal and the superintendent didn't understand about me was that I was determined to find the best things in the world--jobs and learning experiences--for these kids to do. I suspect I achieved my goals. When I started in the program, nine kids left early for after-school jobs. Eventually better than 130 kids signed up for the program. Even some of the teachers who worked at the school began stopping me in the halls and asking me in whispers if I could get jobs for their own children."
The White Plains superintendent took Sains aside one day. "It was not the intention when we hired you to have so many kids going out to work," he said. I was getting such good jobs for these kids that a lot of them gave up other subjects to go to work. That upset a lot of teachers, especially the foreign language teachers."
Sains always sought to elevate the dreams and desires of kids. That often meant putting dreams and desires they weren't aware of into their hearts. At White Plains Sains taught an immigrant girl named Illya. She had great potential and spoke "high" Italian as well as fluent Arabic and English. She told him she wanted to work for IBM as a punch card operator, like her sister. She considered that a great aspiration. Sains didn't think so. He took her to IBM and showed her punch card operators at work. She saw them do the same task minute after minute, hour after hour. He asked her if she still wanted to work for IBM. She shook her head. Sains talked to an executive of the Italian American Lines, a cruise ship company. The executive told him to have her visit. When Sains told Illya about the opportunity, she said her parents wouldn't allow her to go downtown alone. Finally Illya persuaded her parents to let her go with her sister. After the interview, Sains asked the executive what he thought of Illya. The executive said she was exceptional; he would hire her and her sister as well! Illya later married a diplomat and sent Sam and Judith yearly Christmas cards. Once she wrote that Sains had changed her whole life and whatever accomplishments she could claim were due in large part to him.
Sains became friendly with a science teacher at White Plains. Eventually that teacher left the school for a job with Xerox, in its newly acquired education division. He suggested that Sains might do well to look into Xerox himself.
Xerox had recently bought out Basic Systems, Inc., an educational materials outfit. Xerox had put together an impressive education division, which in addition to the former Basic Systems included the school publication My Weekly Reader, the Microfiche Company, and a number of other formerly independent firms. Xerox was making its own educational films and it aimed to be very big in jobs training. When Xerox saw the money flowing from the federal government's War on Poverty, it saw a very good business opportunity.
"So I went to work at Xerox as an educational systems analyst," Sains said. "I looked on my hiring as the beginning of a new life. I would be able to reach many more young people with whom most school systems would rather not be bothered. I saw this as an excellent challenge. With a company like Xerox, I hoped, I could help shape some marvelous programs that could help even the most alienated, most hard-core young people learn effectively and efficiently".
In the days before Christmas 1967, the Tribune ran a series of scoops blowing the lid off the Youth Project. The first story revealed the earth-shattering news that some Youth Project participants had arrest and criminal records. At a press conference, Mayor Daley told reporters he couldn't believe his eyes when he read the accounts. The mayor added that no program should appeal to gang members. The Youth Project, he theorized, only strengthened the stranglehold the Rangers and Disciples had on Woodlawn. "We are not trying to enforce a gang structure," Brazier told reporters in response. "We are trying to work with the structure that exists within the community." But the public cared only that tax dollars were paying the salaries of gang thugs.
A subsequent Tribune story in the series was headlined, "T.W.O. Class: Naps, Dice, and Comic Books." The story, based on interviews with members of the police gang intelligence unit, revealed the GIU had cleverly staked out the Youth Project centers because they'd learned the places were frequented by gang members. GIU reports indicated that on November 15, 1967, trainees and instructors shot dice, slept, and read comic books in the 6750 S. Stony Island center. Detectives reported they observed no textbooks in the classroom. When asked by reporters what he thought of these revelations, Mayor Daley could only shake his head sadly.
"As for the charges that dice and comic books might be found at the centers, I can only confess they were true," Sains said last year. "There were plenty of comic books at the centers. The trainees read them as part of the basic education program that encouraged reading. Today comic books are used a great deal in schoolroom settings. Comic books were not an acceptable thing in education in those days. But we weren't a part of the typical education system. We were approaching education from a completely different point of view because the typical system had been a total failure for these alienated guys. There was no point in following the same path.
"There were math problems that made use of dice. 'What percentage of time do these numbers show up?'--word problems like that. I was never witness to a group at the centers down on their knees, rolling the dice, saying, 'C'mon! Mama needs a new pair of shoes,' with a pile of money sitting on the floor. We used gambling illustrations in our world-of-work handouts. One of them, "Rules of the Game," had a line drawing of a carousel filled with poker chips. Even in poker, you've got to know the rules. What we were trying to do was relate to the lives of these young people. And if it meant using comic books or using dice, we were going to do it. We were trying to reach them on their home turf, using whatever tools they were familiar with.
"Of course, the educational experts wearing the uniform of the Chicago Police Department couldn't immediately see the benefits of using comic books and dice as teaching aids. Perhaps they were stuck in the pretty-little-girls-on-ponies mode."
While the Tribune series was in full swing, the paper ran an editorial lambasting the Youth Project and all the evil liberal totems associated with it, including Democrats, federal antipoverty programs, Sargent Shriver, and "the poor."
Those annoying "poor" had been given control of several government antipoverty programs in recent years, the editorial revealed, and nothing had come of it but mismanagement and corruption. The paper's editorial writer did allow that programs run by government officials also were rife with mismanagement and corruption. But at least the sainted taxpayers and voters could do something about those villains.
"There is something extraordinary about using tax funds to employ accused criminals as administrators and teachers in a program to help the poor," the Tribune asserted. The editorial went on to cite the federal antipoverty outlay of $1.98 billion in 1967 and the planned $2.18 billion for 1968. The obvious conclusion? Here's where your hard-earned tax money goes.
The editorial wrapped up the whole stinking mess with a snide reference to the chief pointy-headed do-gooder in Washington: "We would not be surprised to get yet another letter from Sargent Shriver, head of the O.E.O., saying that the Woodlawn project is admirable and that the whole anti-poverty program is pure as the driven snow."
The American, the evening paper owned by the Tribune Company, got into the act later when it sent an intrepid reporter into Woodlawn to visit the Youth Project office. Sains wasn't in at the time. The reporter arrived unannounced and asked to sit in on a class. The receptionist told him he could do that only by appointment, and to come back at 1 PM and see Mr. Gibbs. The reporter opted to wait. According to his account, moments later someone came into the office, asked for Mr. Gibbs, and was told he wouldn't be in until five. Then a woman came to complain about gang activity and the receptionist told her she didn't know when Gibbs would come in.
A short time later, the reporter wrote, a fellow came out of a small office in back. The receptionist hustled over and whispered to him, indicating the reporter with her eyes. The fellow, the reporter learned, was Mr. Gibbs.
The reporter found it necessary to describe Gibbs's attire in minute detail, as if to say, look at this peacock, more concerned with his clothes than running a good organization. Gibbs was "a slim youth in skin-tight pants and a flamboyant purple sweater." Later in the story the reporter revisited Gibbs's wardrobe: "Resplendent in his tan, high-gloss, buckle shoes, his skin-tight pants, his suede-paneled purple sweater..."
"We can't just let anybody walk in off the street and go into a classroom," Gibbs, the peacock, told the reporter.
The two argued over the public's right to know versus control of the classrooms. The reporter left without seeing a classroom. He complained to Brazier. "What reporters write about this project is immaterial to me," Brazier said.
Despite the press's animosity toward the Youth Project, Sains has ordered three newspapers for each of the centers. Unfortunately, none of the delivery drivers will venture into gang-infested Woodlawn, so someone has to be sent each day to pick up four copies each of the Sun-Times, the Daily Defender, and the Wall Street Journal.
One day Sains is in a center when a trainee picks up one of the papers. He asks, "What is this?"
"Why that's a newspaper," Sains says. "The Wall Street Journal."
The trainee thumbs through the pages. Nothing catches his eye. He asks, "Where's the sports section?"
"Doesn't have one."
"Where's the comics?"
"Doesn't have 'em."
"Where's the pictures?"
"Doesn't have 'em."
The kid laughs and throws the paper down. "What good is it?" he demands. "Who's it for?"
"It's for gamblers," Sains says.
The kid's taken aback. "What do you mean?"
Sains shows him the stock quotes and explains their significance. After a few moments the kid seems to have a rudimentary grasp of the Dow.
"Pick a company," Sains says.
So the kid puts his finger, poetically enough, on IBM.
"Follow that company for a week," Sains says. "Tell me what happens."
At the end of the week the kid tells Sains how much money he would have made had he owned a block of IBM stock.
Sains smiles. "See?"
The trainee is thrilled. He will be a devoted Wall Street Journal reader for the rest of the term.
Sains is in Barksdale's center. The Disciples leader beckons him over to his desk. Barksdale slides open the top drawer and pulls out a cheap-looking blue-black snub-nosed revolver.
"He's testing me," Sains thinks. "What does he expect me to say? 'Hey, you're not allowed to have that here,' and take it away from him? 'You're a bad boy'?"
"That really doesn't belong here," Sains says. "Let's get rid of it."
Barksdale might have been expecting to uncover an enemy; instead, he has found himself an ally. "I got it from one of the guys," Barksdale says. "I took it away from him."
"Good," Sains says. "You're doing your job." With that, Sains picks up his briefcase and walks out the door, leaving Barksdale with the knowledge that Sains trusts he will do the right thing.
"We never talked about it again," Sains remembered.
It is a typical steel-gray mid-January Chicago day. Sains and Tony Gibbs are working at the Youth Project headquarters. The phone rings; it is for Sains.
What he hears from the voice on the other end of the line is something he's dreaded since the inception of the Youth Project. There's been a shooting at the 63rd Street center.
"Oh God," Sains says, "let it not be true." Gibbs jumps up and mouths "What?" Sains tells him what little he knows after hanging up; it isn't clear yet whether someone has been killed. The two grab their coats and begin running to the center.
"This is bad," Gibbs says between gasps of air.
"There goes the ball game," Sains replies.
Sirens pierce the chill air. A stream of squad cars passes the two men running down 63rd Street. The center is flooded with police officers and reporters. The police treat Sains and Gibbs like interlopers when they get to the front door. They keep them from getting too far in the door, while reporters are poking around as if they own the place. Sains and Gibbs have walked into an upside-down world.
The police tipped off the reporters. "It always seemed that when there was an incident, say a raid on the First Presbyterian Church, reporters arrived in the same wave as the police," Sains remembered.
A crowd of kids and bystanders has gathered on the sidewalk and the story of what happened already is making the rounds. A few trainees were fooling around with a shotgun; the thing went off, pellets grazing a kid's face.
Sains and Gibbs relax a bit, now that they realize no one has been seriously hurt. Sains silently thanks the stars it was not a "gang shooting"--where a rival walked into a center and shot up the place.
Soon one of the Youth Project's four professional advisers, Everett McLeary, joins Sains and Gibbs. The tumult has died down and the three are able to make their way inside. What they see shocks them. Sains can't really believe it until he reads the newspapers the next morning.
The police are bringing items in from the alley through a back door. They have armfuls of bottles. They lay them carefully in piles here and there and instruct the newspaper photographers to take pictures. Sains, Gibbs, and McLeary move in closer to see what's so interesting. The piles are used whiskey and pill bottles. The police have scoured the alley behind the center for whatever supposedly incriminating evidence they could find. Since the center is on 63rd Street, a main thoroughfare with restaurants, liquor stores, and the occasional convenience store, countless street people and winos either pass through or actually live in the alley. Whatever the police have found out there could be anybody's garbage. But the piles are now in the center, and the bottles are "evidence." The photographers click away.
"Hey," Gibbs says, as the officers lead the photographers to their caches, "what's going on here?"
"Stay out of the way," one officer says. Sains and Gibbs try to point out to the photographers that they are snapping photos of manufactured evidence. The photographers ignore them. The police, on the other hand, pay close attention. "This is police work," another officer says. He and several other officers surround the three men and look menacing. "We've got things to do here," an officer says.
"We didn't need to be told twice--we retreated promptly," Sains recalled.
There is nothing Sains can do about the photos in the papers the next day. But he can bring the hammer down on his indigenous administrators. He calls in Rangers and Disciples leaders and lays down the law. "You get to your people," Sains warns, "and you tell them the next time somebody brings a gun into a center, we're all out of business."
"You want us to pat everybody down," one of the leaders scoffs. "Can't be done."
"Find a way to do it," Sains says, "or kiss your weekly paycheck good-bye."
The next month, February 1968, a Youth Project staffer from the Disciples was charged in the killing of a 14-year-old girl. Now Brazier was under siege from reporters asking if the program was loaded with bad kids. "We have 270 persons in the youth program now. Eight or ten of them have gotten in trouble, but no one has been convicted yet," Brazier said.
One of the two kids charged in the killing was Nick Dorenzo, a 19-year-old assistant youth director in the program. Newspaper reports made sure to mention that his salary was $5,200 a year.
Young Demetria Wormley was standing with a group of kids on the street in front of 6218 S. Dorchester. Another group of kids emerged from a nearby alley and started shooting. Wormley was hit. Her friends helped her across the street; she was bleeding heavily from the skull and mouth. Her friends helped her lie down and they placed some towels under her head. Then she lost consciousness. A paddy wagon arrived. The police took their time loading her into the vehicle. There was no rush to get her to the morgue.
The police ruled the shooting an accident. It had been the third shooting in Woodlawn in a week.
An unidentified source told reporters that "opposing Woodlawn gang members" had taken a "death vow" to kill Jeff Fort. "They want him dead," the source said.
On Thursday evening, April 4, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis. After simmering for the rest of the night, Chicago exploded Friday morning. The west side was transformed into an inferno. Thick smoke wafted northwest over white neighborhoods whose residents for several years had feared the day when encroaching blacks would seize their streets, homes, and daughters. That smoke was a harbinger; the apocalypse was around the corner.
A huge section of the west side was cordoned off by rioters who'd piled debris and loot at the intersection of Roosevelt Road and Western Avenue, preventing police and fire personnel from entering the war zone. Killing, looting, and arson continued unabated into the weekend. On Friday afternoon, Mayor Daley observed the tumult from the safety of a Fire Department helicopter. When he saw young blacks smash storefront windows and empty shops of televisions and phonographs without any effort by police to stop them, he became delirious with anger. When his helicopter landed, Daley publicly ordered his police chief, James Conlisk, to direct his officers to open fire on lawbreakers. Daley was specific in his orders: the police were to shoot to kill arsonists--that included anyone observed even carrying a Molotov cocktail. Police were to shoot to maim any and all looters. Acting governor Sam Shapiro mobilized the Illinois National Guard. Units of the United States Army moved into a bivouac in spacious Washington Park, ready with automatic weapons and armored vehicles, if needed.
Brazier stands up, mouth agape, when Sains walks into the office the Friday morning after the assassination. Much of white Chicago has opted to stay home for fear of being caught in the maelstrom. Black motorists have taken to driving with their lights on as a tribute to the slain civil rights leader. Although it galls a lot of them, most white Chicagoans who do venture out turn their headlights on as well--they fear being forced off the road by enraged blacks.
"What are you doing here?" Brazier demands.
"This is where I work," comes the reply.
"Well, I suggest you turn around and get back home. This is no normal day," Brazier advises.
"I'll be all right," Sains says.
"We don't want to take any chances," Brazier says. "You go home."
Sains doesn't like it but he heeds the warning.
He climbs the stairs to the Dorchester station and waits on the platform for a northbound train. A middle-aged black man eyes him for a long moment and then approaches him.
"I don't think you ought to be around here," the man says, his tone cautionary, not threatening.
"I suppose not," Sains says. "I'm heading home."
The two men look down on 63rd Street. A few cars try to negotiate it, but mainly the street is filled with milling crowds. Clots of people gather here and there, exchanging words and dispersing only to reform a few yards down the way. The air is electric.
That weekend, the Rangers and the Disciples march en masse down 63rd Street and through Jackson Park to Midway Plaisance, a stretch of green framed by the towers of the University of Chicago. The parade is impressive, thousands of young men clad in leather jackets and black bandannas, each wearing his colors and insignia. On the parkway, leaders of both gangs spout a rhetoric of peace and conciliation, much to the surprise of the hundreds of helmeted police and National Guard troops, loaded rifles at the ready, who line the march route and surround the Midway.
The south side remains eerily calm through the blazing weekend. Days after the rage has passed, after the National Guard and the U.S. Army have returned to their bases, the word starts filtering out: Woodlawn's two notorious street gangs, the Rangers and the Disciples, have enforced a south-side peace. In the Daily News a headline over photos of Fort and Barksdale reads, "Gang chiefs making good, play peacemaker in city."
In the Daily News story, the Reverend Tracy O'Sullivan of Saint Cyril Church at 64th Street and Dante describes Fort as a "political genius." If Fort's a thug, it's only because circumstances have made him so, O'Sullivan says. In reality, he is much more than that. "In his quiet way, he's a powerful man and a born leader," says the priest. Fort's followers are less a band of thieves and bullies than a youthful ray of hope for an oppressed community. "They see the phoniness of the white society and the need for organization. Violence is part and parcel of life out here, and these boys use the resources at hand," says O'Sullivan.
Willie Curtis, a street worker for the Chicago Youth Welfare Commission, calls Barksdale "a good man...concerned with the plight of his fellow Negroes."
These are almost revolutionary words for a Chicago newspaper. Admittedly the Daily News is somewhat to the left of the Tribune, but this is the first time any newspaper has tried to present something other than a horrifying cartoon image of the gangs and their leaders.
The Daily News quotes Fry: "I don't know anyone else who can get across as well as Jeff Fort what it feels like to be black and poor, and who can stand up for those who are black and poor."
And now, surprise of surprises, Fort gets an opportunity to speak. He puffs out his chest at first. "The police are afraid of the Stones' power," he says. The posturing done, he turns to more relevant issues. First, the impact of his group. He refers to his people as the Blackstone Rangers, Black Peoplestone Rangers, Stones, or the Ranger Nation. By whatever name, the Rangers want nothing more than respect and opportunity. "We need jobs," Fort says. The Rangers want to set up a cleaning store on 63rd Street. (For their part, according to the story, the Disciples want to set up a record store and social centers in Englewood.)
"All I want from whites is respect and we'll give them respect. We don't want the whites to paint their faces black or stay out of our neighborhoods. When I say 'Excuse me,' I want a white person to say, 'Excuse me,'" Fort says.
Senator McClellan, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, had set up a field office in Chicago late that winter. The office was staffed with accountants and investigators charged with looking into this Youth Project. "He had a half dozen people who came into our offices," Sains said. "They stayed about a week, constantly rummaging around our office, asking me all kinds of questions." The investigators' primary goal was to find any bookkeeping irregularities upon which McClellan could hang OEO and TWO.
Spring is coming on. One of McClellan's investigators, leafing through reports and ledger sheets, becomes friendly with Sains.
"I'm surprised to see a fellow like you down here," the investigator says.
"A fellow like me--what do you mean?" Sains asks.
"Well, you're the only white fellow I've seen so far around here."
"You're here, aren't you?" Sains says. "You haven't had your head bashed in yet, have you?"
"No," the investigator laughs, a tad nervously.
"Don't get me wrong," Sains says. "I'm not naive. I know there's some tough characters around here. Still, I give everyone I meet respect until he proves to me he doesn't deserve it."
"I agree with you," the investigator says. "That's just the way I act with the people in my office."
"Right," Sains says. "And these are the people in my office."
"Hmm. I never thought about it that way before," the investigator says. He is quiet for a moment; there are other questions in his mind. He clears his throat and speaks again. "Are you Jewish?"
"Yes I am," Sains replies.
"A Jewish man comes down to work here?" the investigator says, his face scrunched in amazement.
Sains can't resist asking him why McClellan feels so strongly about the Youth Project.
The investigator shrugs. "I'm just doin' my job," he says. Sains suspects the investigator's heart really isn't into digging up dirt on the Youth Project.
"He must be serious," the investigator says after a few minutes, "because a lot of money is being spent to bring us here."
"When McClellan wants something," the investigator says, "he'll send the army out to get it."
Senator John McClellan's Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations convened on June 21, 1968, and sessions ran into the middle of July. Its purpose was to find wrongdoing in the Youth Project. The first witnesses told horror stories, some true, others not, such as that the Blackstone Rangers held sex orgies and pot parties in the First Presbyterian Church, that Reverend Fry relayed murder orders from jailed Rangers leaders to members on the outside, that Fry supplied the Rangers with ammunition and encouraged them to tear the Loop apart the next time a riot broke out, that Rangerettes were expected to serve all members of the Rangers sexually. The hearings were the media's big story, each successive salacious charge played out in bold headlines. What McClellan and reporters failed to note was that none of the charges had anything to do with the Youth Project. Fry was the star witness. His testimony--all of it defensive--lasted many days and covered every previous charge as well as a few cooked up on the spot. Sam Sains traveled to Washington and waited to be called to testify. The call never came.
"I would say that Woodlawn has become a cesspool of criminality, spewing out on an innocent public, at taxpayers' expense, the guidance of habitual criminals," Senator Karl Mundt of South Dakota, the ranking Republican on McClellan's committee, said during the hearings. Never was it mentioned by the senators that shootings were drastically reduced, that assaults had fallen, that the gang war between the Rangers and the Disciples had virtually stopped during the run of the Youth Project.
Five Rangers leaders went to jail after being convicted of fraud for demanding kickbacks from trainees and instructors. Jeff Fort was one of the five, and he was also convicted of contempt of Congress after he refused to testify before McClellan's committee. A new head was chosen for OEO; he was approved only after promising in writing never to fund another program like the Youth Project. TWO applied for a second year of funding for the Youth Project. Needless to say, the request was denied, and the project expired on May 31, 1968. Congress voted to cease making direct grants to community organizations for antipoverty programs. From now on, all federal funding would go through city and state agencies where strong men like Mayor Daley could control it.
Jerry Bernstein, a civil service employee, was transferred by OEO to an administrative job where he wouldn't have contact with young people. Bernstein quit OEO and went to work for a private social service agency. The Reverend John Fry remained pastor of First Presbyterian Church and later wrote a book called Locked-out Americans in which he gushed over the revolutionary courage and fervor of the Black P Stone Nation, as the Rangers eventually became known. Fry now is retired in Oregon. Brazier became a bishop in the Apostolic Church and remains at the Apostolic Church of God, now a modern brick structure, a magnificent oasis on 63rd Street.
Gangs still hold sway in Woodlawn, their names now the Blackstones and the Gangster Disciples. Larry Hoover runs the GDs from a prison cell. The Stones and GDs still shoot each other up, now over drugs. Their antecedents, the Rangers and the Disciples, got into drug dealing in the mid-70s. The white crime syndicate, yearning to make inroads into the black slums yet terrified of them, approached Fort and the Rangers in the early 70s and pitched the idea of a joint venture selling heroin and cocaine on the south side. Fort thumbed his nose at the mob emissary but kept the concept in mind. Within a few years, the Rangers had set up a powerful network of hard-drug dealers in Woodlawn and the surrounding neighborhoods.
First Presbyterian Church still stands at the corner of 64th and Kimbark. The Reverend Jerry Wise has been the pastor there for 11 years. Mary Lou Todd has worked in the church for many years. When asked if the gang problem still vexes her neighborhood, she laughs mirthlessly. "It's still here," she says. "Gettin' worse. Much worse than it was then."
Reverend Wise isn't terribly happy about reopening this chapter of the church's past. "We've had people write books and articles before. We've had people from the University of Chicago write their master's theses on us. We end up having to answer to some reporters. Quite honestly, we always end up with a black eye. It frankly causes us more trouble than we need. We don't need the Chicago Tribune, 30 years later, still giving it to us. That causes me to lose grants. We're barely keeping the doors open as it is--we're hustling, trying to survive. We're still trying to feed people here. We're still trying to help people do all kinds of stuff here.
"I don't need it. We don't need it. We have to live here every day," Wise continues. "I've got kids here who are divided between the Stones and the GDs. They're only a couple of hundred feet away from us all the time! We don't know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. I can't even call the police. If we have a riot around here I gotta put it out myself. That goes back 30 years! Our butt's on the line. That has not gone away."
Sam Sains went on to found and head an innovative industrial arts school in Lexington, Massachusetts, called the Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical School District. He took kids from a number of communities surrounding Lexington, kids who didn't fit into the usual academic achievement track, and helped direct them into successful careers in the trades. He returned to Chicago in the mid 70s and finally did go to work for TWO. He volunteered for, founded, and headed a number of social service agencies that stressed business opportunities for the poor and minorities.
He thought long and hard about the Youth Project in the months before he died on December 22, 1996. He considered what he did with TWO, OEO, Reverend Brazier, and the members of the Blackstone Rangers and the Eastside Disciples one of the landmark achievements of his life. Said Sains: "When you look at the total picture of the Youth Project, the very short time that we had for tooling up and preparing, and then throw all of the obstructions and uncertainty into the pot, you have to wonder how we lasted as long as we did. But we were determined. It's easy to measure success by how many grade levels in reading these guys were elevated. More importantly, you have to look at the profound changes we effected in the young men of the Rangers and the Disciples. More than 100 gang members with no work background, poor school records, and no hope found jobs through the Youth Project. We put them to work! What did the program mean to their future? The shooting stopped for a while. And what about the relationships developed by a white man coming from the Xerox Corporation on Madison Avenue in New York to four centers run by African-American gang members? That white man came out alive! Who in this world would believe that if I hadn't demonstrated it? That's a real success. When you run a government project you have to measure things like reading levels or math levels the government way. But in terms of human success, what lines can you draw on a graph to indicate that?
"The Youth Project was stopped because it takes an enormous amount of time and effort to turn a young person into a productive citizen. It's easier to say, 'To hell with him! Lock him up and throw away the key!' That's what we're still doing today. I want people to begin to question that idea." o
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Jeff Fort photo by Edward Deluga, Chicago Daily News-reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Sun-Times; David Barksdale photo reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Sun-Times; Sam Sains photo by Bruce Powell; Reverend John Fry photo by Pete Peters reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Sun-Times.