In the newly formed Human Relations Unit, Office of Intergroup Relations, as Coordinator of Student Programs, Irv met with the brightest, most troubled kids in the city. In those days gangs of Italians and Blacks would square off in the newly integrated cafeterias of the high schools. Puerto Rican gangs would fight for their piece of turf. My father would go to the schools, find the leaders, and take them on weekend retreats for sensitivity training.
He related easily to these kids born into dead-end situations, fighting for self-respect. I suspect the kids related to him, his identification with them was genuine and most kids react well to this. He wasn’t there to bust them or make them fall in line. His mission was to get them to talk to each other, become friends. They did talk, role play, work as teams, imitate each other, laugh together, eat together. Many, indeed, became friends when they got to know each other. The most charismatic kids in the high school would make peace, so would everyone else. It was exhilarating work for a short time.
There are more stories about this Mod Squad my father headed for a couple of years, but the short version was reported by my exhausted father a few years later.
“The program worked great with the kids we reached, the ones we worked with. They actually got along after those weekends we ran. The problem was when they graduated and their little brothers and sisters began killing each other.”
I remember visiting him in the hospital around that time, but that is another story for another day.