Detroit Free PressAuthor tells of fight for justice as teacher, activist by Ron Dzwonkowski

John Telford has been fighting all his life. As a kid, he brawled on the streets of Detroit and boxed in the ring. As an adult, he traded his fists for words and actions that were no less combative. Like all fighters, he’s a hero to some, a real pain to others. Read more…


Dome MagazineDetroit’s Fiery Schoolhouse Crusader

…”a fascinating ‘tell-all’ autobiography by Dr. John Telford, a long-time Detroit area schoolteacher, administrator and social activist. Pulling no punches (he’s a former boxer) and pushing his ‘tell-it-like-I-see-it’ philosophy, Telford describes his five-decades crusade to save Detroit kids from educational neglect and mismanagement.”Read more…



The Detroit Teacher: Recommended Reading A Life on the RUN – Seeking and Safeguarding Social Justice

Dr. John Telford has led more lives than a cat and survived more setbacks. A Detroit teacher 50 years ago and again in this century, he bled in the amateur boxing ring, broke bones in football and fights, was incarcerated as a teen and expelled from a Detroit high school, sired a son with another man’s wife, and tore his hamstring muscle in the 1956 Olympic trials. Decades later, skinheads riddled his Rochester house with midnight gunfire when as deputy superintendent he pioneered the hire of black administrators in that 98 percent white district. He endured a messy divorce he admits was his fault. He was fired from two DPS executive directorships for whistle blowing and from the Madison District Public Schools superintendency for bringing in hundreds of Detroit students against the wishes of white residents. Read more starting on Page 9…


Praise for A Life on the Run “A Life on the Run” is a triumphant tale of teaching, fighting, loving, racing, civil-righteous rebellion, and raw courage. Dr. John Telford lays it on the line in exciting activist/educator style—like the exciting activist/educator he is.” —Professor John A. Powell, Executive Director, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University writes in his introduction for A Life on the Run.

ABOUT JOHN TELFORD John Telford has run on many tracks –not all of them always the right ones. He out ran Olympic champions, hosted radio shows, appeared on television, wrote over one thousand newspaper columns, coached and taught in ghetto schools and in colleges, led school districts and social welfare agencies and continues to fight for urban school reform and minority rights.

Telford’s snapshot of what is needed: Put truant officers back on district payrolls to round up all the high school dropouts. These are kids who have spun out of the control of their mothers or grandmothers who are vainly trying to raise them. Most misbehaving teens in urban schools can’t read. They need to be placed in special classes and small education settings and surrounded with special assistance, like remedial teachers and social workers.

Return to instruction in traditional grammar, K-12. Dialect can cause severe comprehension problems for African-American, Latino and Arabic students.

Restore vocational courses and art, music, and athletic programs that have been curtailed in many secondary schools across America. In-school opportunities to compete on a team, play in a band, or learn a trade are the only reasons some kids stay in school. Institutionalize programs for restorative justice, anger management, and conflict resolution to induce rival gangs in a give school to put aside their rivalries during the school day.

Urban Schools in America Are Broken—Can They Be Fixed? Dr. John Telford Says Yes A LIFE ON THE RUN: SEEKING AND SAFEGUARDING SOCIAL JUSTICE By Dr. John Telford (Detroit, Michigan, September 30, 2009) – John Telford, teacher activist, superintendent, passionate civil rights champion, world class sprinter, street fighter and now author says it can be done, but we need to change NOW what is critically and fundamentally wrong. Telford makes it clear that the miseducation of America’s students will surely create a situation where regardless of who wins in Iraq, if Wall Street hits 12,000 again, or if health care is available to all who need it, how we deal with educating not only the best and the brightest but the weakest in our schools, will ultimately define the kind of America we live in 5, 10 and 15 years from now. President Obama echoed some of these same feelings in his address on September 7, 2009. Obama challenged America’s students, “What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school—you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.” So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve?” This is tough talk for tough times, but what makes the retired 74-year-old Telford different is that he comes from inner city Detroit, stayed there, taught there and still cares deeply about what happens to his students. Telford is not just angry at the state of schools today—that’s simple; he has got a plan to turn it around. This is his prescription and it is just the beginning:

Eliminate the public charter schools. Redirect more money proportionally to traditional public school districts with the greatest social need. Most misbehaving teens in urban schools can’t read. Isolate misbehavers in special classes until their grades and behavior improve and squeeze the financial balloon to surround them with remedial and behavioral support systems.

Establish stiff anti-nepotism clauses in hiring and promoting instructional and administrative staff. Many urban school districts, including Detroit, are being run by black “classists” who funnel most of the tax dollars into a few elite schools and let the others rot.

Activist Educator and Former All-American Sprinter John Telford Pens an Electrifying Tell-All Memoir about the Down-and-Dirty Fight for Racial and Social Justice in Schools (Detroit, Michigan, September 20, 2009) – Inner-city teacher and retired suburban school superintendent John Telford has long been called a lightning rod for controversy. A 74-year-old native Detroiter who outran Olympic champions in his youth, Dr. Telford is one of America’s most fervent fighters for the right of impoverished black and brown teenagers to get a full and fair education. In January 2010, Harmonie Park Press, a 60-year-old company that is launching a new series of titles from emerging Michigan writers, will release Dr. John Telford’s blockbuster, no-holds-barred autobiography, A Life on the RUN – Seeking and Safeguarding Social Justice. World-renowned self-help author Dr. Wayne Dyer calls Dr. Telford’s life story “luminous”—and “in turn, outraged, droll, scandalous, and sexy.” Spencer Haywood, an Olympian and National Basketball Association All-Star of the 1960s and 70s, says: “Coach Telford has led a life of which legends are made.” Telford’s incarceration as a young teen and his expulsion from a Detroit high school were humbling experiences that set the stage for what former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer calls “John’s lifelong championing of the underdog.” Despite illicit romances that ended his first marriage and nearly destroyed his career, Telford was able to tilt at many windmills, right many wrongs, and help save the world—often one youngster at a time. For his aggressive initiatives to ensure racial justice, he was attacked by community bigots when as a deputy superintendent he hired black principals and his home was riddled with bullets at midnight. Telford was later fired from another suburban superintendency for bringing in hundreds of Detroit students against the wishes of white residents. He was also fired from two non-consecutive executive directorships in the Detroit schools by officials whose incompetence, classism, and corruption he exposed in newspaper columns and on his radio show. His young African-American activist wife Gina says: “John doesn’t hesitate to fight the white and the black establishment when they aren’t about kids.” Dr. Telford is a wise, witty, and cautionary voice in the still discomfiting and difficult discourse on racism and classism in America. In his riveting autobiography, he shares rare insights regarding what is right and wrong with American secondary education—especially urban secondary education—and how those pervasive wrongs can be righted. We invite you to consider Dr. Telford for stories or background for a frank assessment of the state of race relations today—with his insider’s perspective that is extremely rare among white men. He offers half-a-century of first-hand insights from the executive offices of school districts in exclusionary suburbs and from the schools and streets of some of our most economically challenged urban neighborhoods. He remains the only top-ranked administrative retiree in America who actually came back to teach in a tough big-city high school. While others continue merely to “talk the talk,” Telford dares and cares enough to “walk the walk.” To learn more about Dr. Telford and his book, visit

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