By Chris Roberts
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
By Mike Billings
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Sherbert
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
A gig cleaning up garbage for the Department of Public Works or working security at the Port Authority might not be the most desirable job to many people, but for the young men whom Richard considers "part of the habit," the positions guarantee health care, supportive family services, and a pension.
With the role of selecting students for the program comes a great deal of power: Richard holds a valuable carrot at the end of a relatively short stick. Putting Richard in that role seems to make city officials -- including Dwayne Jones and Sophie Maxwell -- perfectly comfortable.
"The reality is that the city and the city departments are at the very least three or four steps removed from the process of being able to assess who is and who is not appropriate for these types of programs," Jones says. "And so it is [the programs'] role, and this is what we fund them to do -- to have their eyes and ears and first-person understanding of where people are in their neighborhoods. Yeah, it is a huge responsibility, but it is also the responsibility of other groups in other communities, to be making an ongoing assessment process. That is the most appropriate role for them -- to be the recruiters and to be able to assess and screen for us."
"I know Shawn fits his role well," says Maxwell. "I've seen firsthand how he communicates to the young people of that community."
More convincing testimony comes from the graduates of Project Redirect -- some of whom have known Richard since they were in grade school -- who say it was Richard's street cred and political connections that made him the only person capable of getting them all to sit down in the same room.
"There's no way that city leaders could get us all together," says Marcus Parker. "And they thought we were going to be at each other's throats. But instead we learned to get along and we stuck together like gentlemen and did what we were supposed to do."
When Project Redirect ended in August 2004, all 18 students had jobs. At the program's graduation ceremony -- held in City Hall -- Mayor Newsom said, "Your success is my success."
Project Redirect overcame several hurdles to get under way, perhaps the largest of which was one of perception. City leaders were concerned that the first phase of Project Redirect would cause a public outcry at the thought of gang leaders being handed municipal jobs.
Supervisor Maxwell contends that no one should raise an eyebrow when former members of West Mob are employed as civil servants. "Those are leaders. Those are leaders," she says. In fact, the supervisor is quick to play the race card when the nature of the students' leadership is questioned. "Being who and what you are, there are privileges there for you, whether you know them or not," she says to this white reporter. "We ... they deserve the same thing. It's the same identical thing."
But it isn't. The supervisor turns a blind eye to some obvious facts: Most applicants to city jobs have never been on the DA's watch list or considered a shot caller with gang affiliations, and it takes a lot more than eight weeks of "life skills" classes for most people to get promised a job paid for by taxpayers. Maxwell is undeterred.
"We promise these same men that if you do wrong you're going to be put in jail," she says, "so why can't we promise them that if they do good they will get a job? If we tell kids, 'You go, get an education, the city will be yours. We promise if you get an education and you invest in the city and you are a citizen, we owe you.'"
But some people in the neighborhood felt differently about just who was owed what. "Some people in the community didn't think it would work at first," Richard says. "They would want their son in the program and ask why you didn't pick their son, or tell me that there wasn't going to be any jobs for the kids. But we went ahead anyway."
Another public perception nightmare met Project Redirect two months after it ended, when a scandal broke out in a similar work-rehabilitation program involving the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, or SLUG, a nonprofit group under contract with the city for street-cleaning services. When investigators for the city attorney found that SLUG workers had been forced by the Department of Public Works' deputy director, Mohammed Nuru, to walk precincts for the "Newsom for Mayor" campaign during work hours or lose wages, some feared that Project Redirect might be susceptible to similar corruption.
"Quite frankly, what happened with SLUG is not going to happen here because of the investment of the people leading the program," says Dwayne Jones, describing the elaborate system of checks and balances. "If there is a problem on the job or with the cops that so-and-so is hanging out where he shouldn't be, I get a call, that day," Jones says. "And I call Shawn and tell him to talk to his guy that day so that when they show up to work the next day it is taken care of.