Gang Members to Bread Makers: Gregory Boyle and Homeboy Industries

7.22.11

Yesterday, those who could squeeze into a packed South Pasadena Library community room (even overflowing onto the streets) were most likely inspired, as Mike (my husband) and I were, by Gregory Boyle, founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries. He shared funny, sad, and heart-warming stories about his quarter of a century or so journey with gang members in LA, loving on them as equals and bringing them hope for a peaceful future through jobs where rival gang members become co-workers and eventually, friends.

A gifted storyteller, Boyle enamored the crowd as he described the budding of friendships, with the initial meeting of tattoo-strewn rival gang members: cold and carefully distant. But when one of the members was beaten on the street and left for dead by rival gang members, his co-worker, previous enemy turned kin, responded with heartfelt dismay, “That’s messed up what they did… Can I give my blood?” His friend passed away, but the bond between brothers was solidified. This is the power of getting to know people, really know them, while fostering respectful and caring interactions.

Father Boyle, a Jesuit priest, is not what you might expect. While loving the Lord through his actions, he has learned what it means to be in the world, but not of the world (like “Jesus with skin”). He uses colorful language (some would call it foul) as the homies would use in their everyday vernacular to describe life. At the same time, he seems comfortable in his skin whether interacting with the first lady of the US or with someone hooked on heroine. In his words, “We’re all equals.”

I’ve eaten at Homegirl Cafe in LA, a short gold line train ride from South Pasadena (Chinatown stop), and it’s simply delicious. Even without the good that it’s doing for all who work there and the community at large, Homegirl Cafe is a good restaurant (I wrote about it months ago on facebook). You can also get Homeboy goodies at the South Pasadena Farmer’s Market on Thursday evenings (shameless plug for the homies in South Pasadena). But it all started off as a bakery, jobs for the homeboys (and then silkscreening, tattoo removal, educational classes, etc…) So you combine quality with a useful social service that works and you get Homeboy Industries.

Encouraged by Boyle’s courage and steadfastness, I bought his Los Angeles Times best seller, Tattoos on the Heart, The Power of Boundless Compassion (all proceeds going back into Homeboy Industries). He signed it, “no-matter-what-ness.” I plan to read on and find out just what that means. In the mean time, I know that I’ve just stepped into my first Tattoo parlor, the start of a beautiful piercing of art on my own heart, allowing “He who began a good work in me” to bring it to completion; I trust this.

Hopefully, the inspiration that was shared last night does not stop at a good feeling, hearing uplifting stories and being thankful the Homeboy Industry exists, but transfers to action: volunteering, seeing people as equals, doing our part to extend compassion and love a step further than we already do.

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