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Photo: Homeboy Industries
The Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, S.J., is the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.

I recently heard Terry Gross interview this amazing priest, founder of the world’s largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program, on her radio show Fresh Air. This is a man who lives his religion, ministering to the outcasts of society.

“GROSS: My guest, Father Greg Boyle, has worked with former gang members in LA for over 30 years. He’s the founder of Homeboy Industries, which was created to help former gang members and people transitioning out of prison create stable lives and stay out of gangs. Instead of Father Greg trying to convince business owners to hire young people who are at risk, he created jobs for them through Homeboy Industries.

“Homeboy is a series of businesses including a restaurant, a bakery, cafe, farmers markets created with the purpose of hiring these young people so they can have on-the-job training. The employers come from rival gangs so they have to put aside their distrust and hatred of each other. Homeboy also provides other job training and social service programs. …

“Back in the ’80s and ’90s, Father Greg spent a lot of time on the streets. He’s witnessed shootings, he’s buried over 200 young people and he’s kept on with the work in spite of being diagnosed with a chronic form of leukemia about 15 years ago. He started working with gangs in 1986 when he became the pastor of the Dolores Mission Church in East LA, which was then the city’s poorest Catholic parish. He’s just written his second book, called, Barking To The Choir: The Power Of Radical Kinship.

“Father Greg Boyle … you say that employment isn’t necessarily going to totally change someone’s life. They might end up back in prison. But if somebody’s healed, that will change their life possibly forever. What’s the distinction you make between [the employment] opportunity that you’re giving them and healing?

“BOYLE: Thirty years ago when we started Homeboy Industries, you know, the motto was nothing stops a bullet like a job, and that was a response to gang members saying if only we had work. And that was essential, but then when we discovered that, you know, we would dispatch gang members to jobs. But the minute any kind of monkey wrench was tossed into the mix, they would unravel, you know, that there was no resilience.

“There was no healing. And they would go right back to gang life or go back to prison. So it was then that we kind of, probably 15 years ago, we said, you know, healing is probably more necessary along with the fact that people need to have a reason to get up in the morning and a place to go and a reason not to gang bang. …

“So we altered our [stance] from just finding a job for every gang member or employing them with us but also trying to have them come to terms with whatever suffering they’ve been through and trauma. …

“GROSS: You talk about people whose parent would put their head in the toilet and flush the toilet and nearly drown them. … So when people have been brought up like this, and they’re also poor and they have no real future prospects, how do you heal them? …

“BOYLE: Well, part of what we have at Homeboy is this irresistible culture of tenderness, you know, where people kind of hold each other. …

“We don’t get tripped up so much by behavior. Even gang violence itself is a language. … What language is it speaking? You know, it’s not about the flying of bullets. It’s about a lethal absence of hope. So let’s address the despair. And the same thing is with behavior.

“I mean, we bring it up, and at some point we say, we think you’re telling us that you’re not ready to be here. We love you. We think you’re great. Come back when you’re ready. So that’s the thing we do often enough. And we drug test because we don’t want anyone to numb their pain as they do the work. …

“They’re not going to be able to transform their pain if they’re inebriated or if they’re constantly smoking marijuana. … They’re used to self-medicating. They’re used to escape. They want to find that place where they can’t see their pain from. And the antidote, really, is to hold them in a place where they feel cherished, and that’s really compelling.”

There’s so much food for thought in this long interview. Read it at NPR, here.

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