NEWPORT, R.I. – Los Angeles ‘Homeboy’ Rev. Gregory Boyle, founder of the largest gang intervention program in the United States, challenged Salve Regina students to create a community of kinship, one that merges the line between service provider and service recipient, when he offered remarks at the university’s Convocation on Wednesday, Sept. 7.
Father Greg, who was presented with an honorary doctorate in humane letters by Salve Regina president Jane Gerety, RSM, told students they were in this place for a reason.
“There’s a vision that brings you to this event and certainly brings you to this university,” he said. “And that is the fact that you want the world to look differently than it currently looks … and good for you.”
Father Greg said he believed Mother Theresa was correct in her diagnosis of the world’s ills. “She said the problem in the world is that we’ve just forgotten that we belong to each other.”
During his 25 years of working at Homeboy Industries – nestled between two housing projects in a county populated by 1,100 gangs and up to 100,000 gang members – he quickly learned that he was receiving as much service as he was administering. “I defy you to identify exactly who’s the service provider and who’s the service recipient,” he said. “It’s mutual.”
He laced humor throughout his 17-minute talk. He described some of the new abbreviated text lingo he has learned from gang members. He also spoke about Homeboy Industries’ job programs, not all of which have been successful.
“Homeboy Plumbing was not hugely successful,” he said. “Who knew people didn’t want gang members in their homes … I did not see that coming."
Father Greg told the Convocation audience he has seen too many horrible things and has buried too many people too young, but through the process of forming kinships, has brought enemies together. “It’s impossible to demonize people you know, human beings can’t sustain it.
“When you really get lucky and fortunate, and are blessed, you get to stand with the easily despised and the readily left-out, and with the demonized, so that the demonizing will stop,” he said. “And [you get to stand] with the disposable, so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. What we seek is a compassion that can stand in awe of what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment of how they carry it.”
As executive director of Homeboy Industries and an acknowledged expert on gangs and intervention approaches, Father Greg is a nationally renowned speaker on the importance of adult attention, guidance and unconditional love in preventing youth from joining gangs.
His 2010 book, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion,” received the SCIBA (Southern California Indie Booksellers Association) Non-Fiction Book Award and was named as one of the Best Books of 2010 by Publishers Weekly.
Born in Los Angeles as one of eight siblings, Father Greg entered the order of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and was ordained a priest in 1984. He received his bachelor of arts degree from Gonzaga University, and master’s degrees from Loyola Marymount University, the Weston School of Theology, and the Jesuit School of Theology.
Before founding Homeboy Industries, Father Greg taught at Loyola High School and worked with Christian Base Communities in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He was appointed as Pastor of Dolores Mission in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1986 where he served through 1992. Following this, Fr. Greg spent time as Chaplain of the Islas Marias Penal Colony in Mexico and Folsom Prison, before returning to Los Angeles and Dolores Mission.
Homeboy Industries traces its roots to “Jobs For A Future” (JFF), a program created in 1988 by Father Greg at Dolores Mission parish. In an effort to address the escalating problems and unmet needs of gang-involved youth, Father Greg and the community developed positive alternatives, including establishing an elementary school, a day care program and finding legitimate employment for young people. JFF’s success demonstrated that many gang members are eager to leave the dangerous and destructive life on the “streets.”
In 1992, as a response to the civil unrest in Los Angeles, Father Greg launched the first business: Homeboy Bakery, with a mission to create an environment that provided training, work experience, and above all, the opportunity for rival gang members to work side by side. The success of the Bakery created the groundwork for additional businesses, thus prompting JFF to become an independent non-profit organization, Homeboy Industries, in 2001. Today Homeboy Industries’ nonprofit economic development enterprises include Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen, Homeboy/Homegirl Merchandise, and Homegirl Café.
Father Greg is also a consultant to youth service and governmental agencies, policy-makers and employers. He serves as a member of the National Gang Center Advisory Board (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention). He is also a member of the Advisory Board for the Loyola Law School Center for Juvenile Law and Policy in Los Angeles.
Father Greg has received numerous accolades and recognitions on behalf of Homeboy and for his work with former gang members.