“I have never met a hopeful kid that joined a gang.” Fr. Gregory Boyle
Father Gregory Boyle traces the beginning of Homeboy Industries to an ex-con’s walking into his office in the Dolores Mission in Los Angeles. In his TED talk, Boyle says he was serving in the poorest parish in Los Angeles. Frank was two weeks out of Corcoran State Prison.
Frank told Fr. Boyle, “You know, I’m having a hard time finding a job.”
Across Frank’s forehead was a tattoo that posed an insurmountable barrier for potential employers: “Fuck the world.”
Boyle found a doctor willing to donate time to remove the tattoo. Frank’s journey became the impetus for Jobs for a Future. That was 1988, when Los Angeles had only 8 gangs. The jobs program’s success in helping gang members who wanted to leave street life led to the launch of Homeboy Bakery in 1992. Boyle was willing to try anything to provide a future for gang members. Some initiatives worked, some didn’t. He told the TED audience Homeboy plumbing was not a big success and laughed, ““Who knew people did not want former gang members in their homes?”
Today Homeboy Industries has seven social enterprises. In addition to providing jobs for former gang members, they offer services that include anger management, parenting, mental health and substance abuse counseling, tutoring, case management, job development and free tattoo removal.
Homeboy Industries is now the largest gang member rehabilitation and re-entry center in the U.S., working with 15,000 men and women each year. They have their work cut out for them. Los Angeles now has 1,100 gangs with 86,000 members.
In his TED talk, Boyle asks:
How can we achieve a certain kind of compassion that stands in awe of what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it? For the measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them, in mutuality.
With his engaging stories, warm laugh and boundless love, Fr. Boyle invites all of us to join the circle of kinship, a circle of compassion where no one stands outside. Although he acknowledges evil in the world, he sees good in everyone and says:
Sometimes you have to reach in and dismantle messages that get in the way so that the soul can feel its worth.
We all have messages that get in the way. We all need the circle of kinship.
Fr. Gregory Boyle gives me hope.
Fr. Boyle’s memoir:
Check out this video on Homeboy Industries’ kinship of hope.