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John Maher of Delancey Street

First time I heard John, I thought, “Jesus, they got me in here with a bunch of commies!” … He can talk about the prejudiced honkies, the prejudiced blacks, the guilt people carry around.He got rid of a lot of my prejudices about blacks, and my ignorance, the labels they put on people. – Ron Coombs, Vietnam Veteran

People quickly learn that the interests of all oppressed groups – ghetto blacks, hard-hats, poor Southern whites, women and gays – are identical.’

When newcomers arrive here, they tend to isolate themselves, black with black, white with white, because they come from neighbourhoods andprisons where a childish form of racism is encouraged. When this happens, it means that these victims sense of self-identity had been destroyed and that they must take on the identity of their ethnic or geographic group. We break these groups up. Their previous experiences with other people and groups have been almost totally negative. The key is to handle people the same. As they emerge back into society, they learn that racism is foolish and that the interests of ethnic groups are closely related to those who shared the same experiences – drugs, poverty, and oppression. They learn here that their freedoms are interdependent, that there is no freedom for one without freedom for all. When blacks and whites understand this concept, they are truly integrated.

When we get white red-neck racists in here, the old whites take them aside and explain certain fundamental realities – that for years the whites and blacks have been kept in a state of chronic war and denied justice by the system and its administrators, and that as long as we continue to fight each other, we don’t get ahead. When this begins to make sense, we do something simple – we tell them the truth, which a racist environment never does, we tell them that whites and blacks have been used as scapegoats for each other on the lowest levels, encouraged by the government and the bureaucracy, and that the interests of ghetto blacks, hard-hats, and poor Southern whites are identical.

When Archie Bunker screams, “I’m tired of being mugged, and I’m gonna break some jaws,” it’s the same thing as the black radicals saying, “Get these corrupt cops, dope pushers, and creep social workers out of my neighbourhood!” Because of the difference in political rhetoric and their sociological platform, they’ve got different perspectives. But the good people in both these camps find themselves at war with each other, when they’re actually on the same side, and in this kind of struggle, it’s only the giant bureaucracies that win. Quickly we find that the most virulent white racists can begin to respect blacks who stand up for themselves, and that when blacks meet really tough whites for the first time, instead of middle-class social worker lames, a mutual respect builds to where they can work together.

In Games, a white racist is talked down to, laughed at, and maybe yelled at from time to time. We find it silly, some asshole comes here of any colour, never done anything except steal off his own mother, pimp off his wife, sell dope to poor people – this clown gets up and says, “I don’t like Armenians, they’re oily, smell weird, and got the brain-pans of salamanders.” This is comical, but not in a threatened environment where the integration is not genuine, and where such nonsense is greeted with horror. But in Delancey Street, we greet this kind of garbage with great gales of laughter. How can some black dope peddler come in here selling heroin to black children to keep them enslaved for the benefit of the landlords and the police structure, actually get up and rail at the white oppressor? He is the Fucking Oppressor! We recognise that racist babble and drug use are merely the symptomlogy of the oppressed, therefore not great crimes.
– John Maher: John Maher of Delancey Street: A Guide for Peaceful Revolution in America, by Grover Sales.
» SQSwans: Reports: John Maher of Delancey Street.


Delancey Street Foundation

At our site we hope to show you a little about our model, our successes and our struggles. We’re considered the country’s leading residential self-help organization for substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless and others who have hit bottom. Our average resident has been a hard-core drug addict for sixteen years, abusing alcohol and multiple drugs and has dropped out of school at the 7th grade and has been institutionalized several times. Many have been gang members; most have been trapped in poverty for several generations. Rather than hire experts to help the people with problems, we decided to run Delancey Street with no staff and no funding. Like a large family, our residents must learn to develop their strengths and help each other. It’s an approach to changing lives that is “against all odds”.

We said we were going to take ex-convicts and ex-addicts and teach them to be teachers, general contractors, and truck drivers. They said it couldn’t be done. We said we were going to take 250 people who had never worked and had no skills and teach them to build a 400,000 square foot complex as our new home on the waterfront. They said it couldn’t be done. We said we were going to partner with colleges and get people who started out functionally illiterate to achieve bachelor of arts degrees. They said it couldn’t be done. We said we were going to run successful restaurants, moving companies, furniture making, and cafés and bookstores without any professional help. They said it couldn’t be done. We said we were going to do all this with no staff, no government funding, and no professionals. They laughed and said it couldn’t be done.

We struggle a lot but we’ve been doing it. For over 40 years we’ve been developing a model of social entrepreneurship, of education, of rehabilitation and change that is exciting and full of hope. If you need help, or want to help, please contact us. Most of all, we hope you can feel as inspired by ordinary people’s abilities to achieve extraordinary accomplishments as we’ve been.
Delancey Street Foundation.