Boyle Lectures On His Time At Homeboy
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
While serving as pastor of Dolores Mission in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles in 1988, Rev. Greg Boyle, S.J. presided over the burial of a victim of gang violence for the first time. Today, Boyle has buried 188 individuals killed from gang violence.
Boyle’s experiences as a pastor in the gang capital of America and as director of Homeboy Industries, a collection of nonprofit enterprises that provides jobs and services for gang members, lent several stories—from the hilarious to the heartbreaking—to his speech in a packed Robsham Theater Thursday night. The event drew people from not just the Boston College community, but also the greater Boston area.
He brought his audience to laughter one moment and tears the next with anecdotes of his times with the “homies” and aphorisms about the dangerous gap of understanding between the privileged and the gang member.
“Stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment of how they carry it,” he said.
The main message of his speech, and of Homeboy Industries as a whole, is the need for kinship as the path to justice.
“There’s an idea that has taken root in the world—it’s at the root of all that’s wrong with it, and the idea would be this: that there just might be lives out there that matter less than other lives,” Boyle said. “How do we stand against that idea?”
He began taking great strides to stand against that idea in 1992 when, in response to the LA riots and the accompanying civil unrest, he created Homeboy Bakery to serve as a place where gang members seeking to escape their violent lifestyles could earn training and work experience. This bakery eventually evolved into the multi-faceted Homeboy Industries.
This organization serves not only to teach former gang members valuable skills, but also to force them to work side by side with members of enemy gangs.
“It’s impossible for humans to demonize people they know,” Boyle said. “Human beings just can’t sustain it.”
By having rival gang members work the same jobs, Boyle helps to foster the kinship he desires between people who had previously shot guns at each other. He told a story in which two young boys from rival gangs who had a deep personal hatred for one another both got jobs in the silk screen factory at Homeboy. After a few months, one was beaten to death in an alley by a rival gang. A few days later, the other boy called Boyle, and said sadly, “He was not my enemy, he was my friend. We worked together.”
After telling that story, Boyle paused, and then added, “Now, can I say that always happens at Homeboy Industries? Yeah, of course. Any exceptions? No.”
Boyle also seeks to foster a kinship between the volunteers that work at Homeboy Industries and the gang members that utilize the opportunities it provides.
He expressed his hesitation in using the word “service” to describe what he and the other people at Homeboy do for the “homies.”
“Even in service, there’s a distance, almost by definition: service provider, service recipient,” he said. “Service is the hallway that gets you to the ballroom. That’s where you want to land. And the ballroom is the place of kinship, the place where there is no ‘us and them’ and everything has been bridged.”
He expressed his discomfort with the fact that people tell him he has saved these gang members.
“I think saving lives is for the Coast Guard,” he said. “Every day I show up [at Homeboy Industries], my life gets saved.”
He stressed that really the only thing a person can do for another person is provide them with kinship so that both realize that one is not above the other. He told a story about an ex-convict working at Homegirl Cafe, another enterprise of Homeboy Industries, who mistook Diane Keaton, who came in for lunch that day, for someone she had been in prison with.
“Suddenly kinship so quickly,” Boyle said. “Oscar-winning actress and attitudinal waitress. Exactly what God had in mind.
“Your truth is my truth, and my truth is a gang member’s truth, and it all happens to be the same truth, and here’s the truth: You are exactly what God had in mind when God made you,” he said.
Boyle concluded his speech to deafening applause and a standing ovation.