Occasionally, life offers up the opportunity to bump into individuals who not only inspire you, but that also make you want to jump out of your seat and go DO something. They not only call us to action, they sober our minds with the reality of what could be. They are curators of hope. Father Gregory Boyle is one such individual, who I was lucky enough to hear speak at Plywood Presents.
Father Gregory has been the visionary and driving force behind Homeboy Industries since 1988, which serves high-risk, formerly gang-involved men and women of Los Angeles with a continuum of free services and programs, and operates seven social enterprises that serve as job-training sites. Today, Homeboy Industries is the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the United States, providing services each year to more than 12,000 former gang members and gang-impacted individuals based in the highest concentrated areas of gang violence in LA.
Originally, Father Greg was charged with the task of finding educational institutions that would allow gang members re-entry into the education system. However, he met dead end after dead end. So, of course in true entrepreneurial fashion he crafted a new model which replaced the motto of Tough on Crime, with Love on People.
After listening to Father Gregory for five minutes, I was fully convinced that he makes every effort to love on people every waking second of his day, and with every breath that leaves his body. He is a jovial, light-hearted, and warm individual who seems to ooze vibes of kindness and pure joy. He is exactly the person you could share your life story with over a beer or a cup of Joe.
As he spoke he began to drill down to what was his vision was when he started out in 1988. A community laser- focused on kinship. Kinship does not see color or gang origin. It sees common ground. It sees family. Imagine a community where no one stands outside of the circle of kinship. Where we stand with those whose dignity has been stolen. A circle where we stand with the disposable, so that one day society will stop throwing those individuals away. To create a circle without an Us and Them mentality.
If kinship was our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice, we would be celebrating it.
The development of his vision for kinship has taken time. Something not everyone is willing to sacrifice. However, Father Greg shared, in his wise uncle-like tone, a scripture from Hab 2:3 that has become a constant reminder for him:
“The vision still has its time and presses on to fulfillment and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it.”
As Father Greg shared participant success stories, my understanding of the value, and need for kinship grew. The trainees in the program work alongside former enemies, individuals who once would have shot them in an alley. However, now they work towards common goals and in a common space. As Father Greg said, “it is hard to demoralize someone you work with, and do life with each day.” Eventually, barriers will come down, and new bonds will be built.
In the end, it is about meeting people where they are in life with unrelenting, unyielding compassion. Even in the face of hopelessness and potential failure. Father Greg kindly reminded us that it was Mother Teresa who said we are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful to the vision. If you chase success, it is very easy to alter the mission or vision of your goal. However, if you keep your eye on the prize, hold on for dear life and embrace the strategy that no matter what comes you will continue to hold true to the vision, then it will not disappoint.
Remember, the vision still has its time, and presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, we wait for it.
I could attempt to recount the numerous stories Father Gregory shared; however, I would not do them justice. Instead, I would encourage you to take a few minutes and visit the Homeboy Industries Blog, which is filled with post after post of incredible stories of the lives impacted by Homeboy Industries. Follow Father Greg, and potentially glean more uncle-like wisdom, as he shares the transformation taking place firsthand on Twitter at @homeboyind.