When Father Greg Boyle became the pastor of Dolores Mission Church it was the poorest parish in Los Angeles with the highest concentration of gang activity in the city.
Desiring to help his community, Boyle began working with neighborhood businesses to hire ex-cons and former gang members. In 1988 Boyle founded Homeboy Industries to form their own job training business. Today it is the largest gang intervention, rehab reentry program in the world. Each year approximately 8,000 people go through the doors, trying to reimagine what could be next after leaving prison or abandoning gang life.
In the beginning, the mission was to locate gainful employment for gang members. But once they got to know gang members, Father Boyle says they realized they needed more than jobs. They needed healing.
“In the early days, we had eight gangs at war with each other. So, a lot of shuttle diplomacy, a lot of working with gangs, peace treaties, truces, cease-fires. And that kind of mindset changed for me. I thought, ‘No, it’s one gang member at a time.’”
What began with one bakery now includes almost 12 social enterprises, like electronic recycling, a café, and silkscreen and embroidery. Today Homeboy also offers multiple support programs including anger management, mental health services, domestic violence, substance abuse, tattoo removal, and education and legal services. “We’re in the business of second chances,” says Boyle.
“I think if you ask anybody who’s gone through recovery, a lot of times they’ll say, ‘Well, this is my fifth rehab.’ Relapse happens. And because part of the work is to kind of excavate your wounds and look at stuff that happened to you, that can lead to self-medication, or it can lead to just the abandonment of the process. So, we’re sensitive to that.
“In the old days, we’d fret. ‘Maybe he’ll come back.’ Now we say, ‘He’ll be back because they always do.’ Because once you have a dose of people cherishing you that’s so compelling that it always works.”
It’s not just the former gang members who are changed by the work. Homeboy Industries has over 300 volunteers, ranging from doctors, psychiatrists, and therapists to tutors and mentors. Boyle says that when volunteers let go of the desire to make a difference and open up to how they themselves can be changed; a mutuality is created. It’s what he calls kinship.
“If you go to the margins to make a difference, then it’s about you and it can’t be about me. It has to be about us,” said Boyle. “So, if you go to the margin so that the folks at the margins make me different, well then suddenly it’s mutual. It’s exquisitely mutual and everybody is inhabiting their truth and their dignity and their nobility.
“Then it’s not about saving, fixing, rescuing success, tally sheets of people who have now moved on; it’s only about delighting in the person in front of you. And then, just experiencing the kinship and connection between people.”
Radical kinship is the driving force with Homeboy Industries and an idea that easily translates into a way to strengthen our own communities.
“Kinship is we belong to each other. So how do we stand against forgetting that? How do we imagine a circle of compassion and imagine nobody standing outside that circle?” said Boyle. “The human task is to dismantle any barrier that exists that keeps us from each other. We’ve been so historically reliant on moralism and moralism hasn’t kept us moral. It’s only kept us from each other. So, you want to bridge any distance there is between us and them. And how do you keep it connected? So that’s what kinship is, that we may be one.”
This article is featured in the October 2022 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.