The first time I met Father Gregory Boyle was a couple of years ago at a conference for public defenders and youth advocates. He was the keynote speaker. Up until that day, what little I knew of him was based on his work with Homeboy Industries. Founded 24 years ago, Homeboy Industries “serves at-risk and gang involved youth with a continuum of services and programs designed to meet their multiple needs, and runs four businesses that serve as job-training sites.” Their social enterprises include Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Café & Catering, and Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery, among others. There is a Homeboy Diner at the Los Angeles City Hall, and this summer, Homeboy Café and Bakery will open in the American Terminal at LAX. Homeboy Industries also offers additional services including legal services, a GED program, solar panel training and certification, and a tattoo removal program.
Most importantly, Homeboy Industries serves a community need that no jail or juvenile hall can ever fulfill: hope and a future.
The conference room was filled mostly with public defenders and other youth advocates who had been fighting a system plagued with injustice. When fighting such a system, it’s often difficult to find the light in the midst of so much darkness. There were many weary faces in the audience; too many years spent hoping for transformative change to only be met with bitter disappointment.
When Father Greg (or “Father G” as he is more affectionately known) began his keynote, a still silence swept the room. He told stories about the different young people who came into his life through the doors of Homeboy. He ministered in Bolivia. He has a Masters degree in English. He's written a book called Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. He has buried too many young people impacted by gang violence. His leukemia was in remission. The silence in the room was now filled with sniffles and laughter as he shared intimate stories of struggle and hope, of sorrow and triumph.
But the thing I remembered most about his speech was when he said: You are so much more than the worst thing you’ve ever done. It struck me like a hammer. It is a beautifully bittersweet sentiment—It begs forgiveness, it seeks hope and redemption, it engages the entire community and its’ truth and honesty is at the core of what connects all of us together.
I was reminded that day, why, as advocates, we continue to fight and struggle despite the disappointment, despite the light that seems to wane at every corner. Every individual matters. Every individual is worthy. We are connected in our struggles and our victories.
Join us at this year's Ellas, where we will honor the work of Father G and all of the young men and women that have made Homeboy Industries thrive and become a model for the country.