|Clearly not your typical developers and construction crew. Abe Irizarry, Mimi Silbert and John Ridley: "We can do it!"
|Mimi Silbert thanking Bank of America Chairman Tom Clausen for the loan to Delancey Street.
Because of our people, our mission, and our approach which goes against the traditional grain of solving social problems, struggle is at the core of our being. None of our achievements, either with individual residents, or with Delancey Street as an organization, has happened without a great deal of struggle. Positive change means taking risks and involves 2 steps forward, 2 to the side, 1 backward, and forward again. Growth and change are not smooth sailing for any person. Because those of us at Delancey Street are self-destructive, we have a particularly hard fight with the part of ourselves that wants to give up, to hide our feelings in drugs or alcohol, to hold grudges rather than learn to forgive, to rationalize and blame rather than admit our own mistakes and fix them. Similarly, as an organization, we continue to struggle with every accomplishment we see, sometimes in different ways, although no less today than when we started. Because of our people's past, we've had "Not In My Backyard" battles in most new cities we've entered. Despite the fact that our first dispute in Pacific Heights was amicably settled and our Police Chiefs and Mayors always wrote accolades about us as neighbors, filled with statistics of crime going down wherever we lived, "NIMBY" struggles continued. For example, in New York, in 1980, we purchased property from a bank as an estate sale with the proceeds benefiting the local hospital. Not only was Delancey Street picketed, as were the bank and the realtor who made the sale, but the poor hospital that was receiving the money from the sale had baby carriages in front of it with signs saying, "I'm ashamed to say I was born in this hospital." We have had struggles with most bureaucracies because we don't fit the traditional ways they expect organizations to operate. For example, although virtually all of our residents enter as drug addicts and leave no longer using drugs, we have no staff of drug counselors and so we don't fit the criteria of government agencies overseeing substance abuse programs. Because our residents teach as well as learn in our business training schools, it took years of struggles with bureaucracies to finally get recognized as a vocational training school.
A few of the struggles we've engaged in over the years, we lost. A neighborhood in Imperial Beach, CA objected to our living there with such intensity that we actually decided not to move in. And of course, nothing is more painful, especially in the midst of a struggle, a full out tug-of-war with self-destruction and anger and drugs, than a life lost.
With some of our struggles we were rescued by the courage and talent and goodwill of others. While trying to build our home on the Embarcadero, there were many times we thought our whole organization would go down because we put everything Delancey Street had behind this process. For example, after finally securing a long term lease with the city, we discovered that although the city supported some low income housing in the plan for the new waterfront neighborhood, the state wouldn't allow it by law on our site. Assemblyman John Burton, who had passed the law 30 years prior, spent an entire year working tirelessly with the State Lands Commission until he found a way for low income housing to be built on our site. Later, as President Pro Tem of the California Senate, Burton successfully fought back bills which would have disallowed ex-convicts to be hired in certain key fields (like truck driving), which not only would have destroyed some of Delancey Street's training programs, but would have put up even more impossible barriers for people re-entering society from prison. Also in building our new home in San Francisco, we were turned down for a loan by our bank, followed by 8 "community minded" bank turn-downs, unless we were willing to get a "real developer" instead of Mimi Silbert, and get the building built by "real professionals" instead of teaching our own people to build their own home. We sold one of our older buildings so we could begin construction. One day while working in the pouring rain underground with only 5 Delancey guys who had ever actually worked on any construction job in their lives, and without a penny left in our coffers, Bank of America's Chariman Tom Clausen and Vice Chairman Dick Rosenberg took a leap of faith, gave us a $10 million dollar unsecured line of credit to be repaid in four years (we repaid it in 3˝ years) and we were on our way to success in building our new home.
|Our first short-lived restaurant.
Some struggles we've been winning by the fortitude and courage of our residents who come together as one and work to become the best of themselves to prove we can make lemonade from lemons. When we leased a small space in San Francisco in the 1970's to open a restaurant, we struggled valiantly to make it work. It took us some years to get a wine and beer license and yet, despite our few years of success, our landlord tripled our rent, asked us for a full liquor license and we lost the lease in the 80's. Although devastated because the restaurant was our most visible contact point for people to come to know Delancey Street, we celebrated this failure by having a 3 day long Halloween party where we gave away free food to anyone who came by, and swore that one day we would own our own restaurant. Years later we pushed that dream into reality and we included building a restaurant as well as a café bookstore as part of our new home on the Embarcadero.
In Brewster, New York, we became such good neighbors that not only did the picketing stop, but we were eventually given the "key" to the city for our good works there.
|Cesar Chavez, Mimi Silbert and Jimmy Herman.
Trying to put together this web site was alien to us because we work with people and not technology. We struggled for four years and it would not have happened except for the patience, diligence and talent of Mark Gallini and Michael Beard at GHI Design in Philadelphia, PA.
Many if not most of our struggles, particularly for social justice, will continue for generations. The important thing we learn in Delancey Street is that we must all give up our angers and biases against each other, work together and pool our resources not only for individuals to make new lives and for Delancey to continue, but to join forces with others in the many struggles we all face for social justice. For example, since our inception the Delancey family joined forces with Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and the struggles of the Farm Workers. We have walked with them, and with other heroes like Jimmy Herman, the long time President of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Unions, as well as with local hotel and restaurant workers and other groups and people who are continuing to struggle for jobs, health care, housing, and the other simple rights of America's poor and its middle class to be able to live with enough resources to feel the promise and pride of their own hard work. Our struggle continues against the three strikes law and the barriers to re-entry for convicts (there are some places where ex-convicts still don't have the right to vote: how can we ever expect them to feel a positive part of citizenry without that basic right?). We understand these struggles remain and require continued commitment.
But with some struggles won, some lost, many remaining, the struggle for success at Delancey Street is always rewarded whenever a resident can turn around a formerly destructive life. It is realized when Delancey opens a new door through which hundreds more can follow to gain access to opportunities. It is rewarded every time a new entrepreneurial venture is developed and managed by formerly unskilled residents without a university professor showing us how to do a business plan or without a professional coming in to manage the top levels. The struggle is rewarded every time a resident reunites with his or her children breaking the cycle of poverty, violence, drugs and crime.
From the beginning, Delancey has opened many new doors. Like the door that let the first ex-felon be admitted to practice law. Or serve on a school board. Or get a real estate license. Or vote. Or the lives of the thousands of graduates, once outside of society, who are now productive tax paying citizens with careers in business, sales, construction, trucking, and even law enforcement. While Delancey successes are enormously rewarding, the true struggle is for a just society and people in it who lead clean lives with purpose and integrity, and that struggle never ever stops.
Leah Garchik (San Francisco Chronicle, 04/25/08)
Chapter in book, Billionaire Who Wasn’t. How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune (Perseus Books Group, Philadelphia, PA, 2007)
"State Prisons Revolving Door: Stepping Back Into Society" (Los Angeles Times, 11/03)
“Delancey Street criminal rehabilitation center urged for San Diego” (The San Diego Union-Tribune, 09/22/94)
"Crime and Transformation" (Creation Spirituality, Autumn 1994)
"Before Three Strikes One Last Chance" (Who Cares, Summer 1994)
"In the New Ball Game, These Two Would Have Struck Out" (The New York Times, 03/94)
“Delancey chief voices dissent at L.A. summit” (San Francisco Examiner, 02/08/94)
"Wrong Way To Get Tough" (The New York Times, 01/94)
"Delancey and Bank of America" (San Francisco Business Times, 06/88)
"BofA loan saves Delancey Street" (San Francisco Pro, 06/88)
"Bank Saves Delancey Street Triangle" (San Francisco Examiner, 06/88)
"The Greatest Risk of All" (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1988)
"Dr. Silbert asks change in correction system" (West County Times, 06/87)
“Delancey Street wants to build South of Market” (San Francisco Examiner, 06/07/85)
"Delancey Street says goodbye to greed" (San Francisco Examiner)
“Ex-cons Who Teach Cops Trade Secrets”, (Parade Magazine, 09/24/78)
"Ex-Expert Reveal Shoplifting Guile" (Independent Jorurnal, 04/75)
“Supervisors to Ponder Definition of a Family” (San Francisco Chronicle, 04/12/73)
“Uneasy Neighbors” (San Francisco Chronicle, 04/09/73)
Delancey Street on Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt (CBS) - 12/88 (RealMedia)
20/20 - "The Power of Mimi" (12/89 - Quicktime)