“Gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope. Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang.”
St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, exhorted Jesuits to strive to find God in all things while actively engaging the world, and to focus on cultivating the whole person. Put another way, faith must be expressed through positive works in order to serve the common good. After years of giving the final benediction for victims of gang carnage, Father Gregory J. “Greg” Boyle, SJ, put those principles into practice by founding Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries, the largest and most successful gang rehabilitation program in the world. Homeboy’s mission is to provide the means for men and women to break the inter-generational cycle of gang violence through therapy, education, practical services, and vocational training. Homeboy’s various businesses – Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Café, Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery, and others – focus on job training to provide healthy alternatives to gang life. The benefits extend well beyond the ten thousand former gang members served yearly and into the wider community.
As evinced by his quote above, Father Greg believes that the single greatest motivator for gang membership is the lack of hope for a better life. His remedy, treating gang members with compassion while offering a holistic and pragmatic “exit ramp,” was considered radical at a time when law enforcement relied on harsh suppression and mass incarceration to confront the growing problem of gang violence. Despite widespread skepticism from police and prosecutors time has proven the value of the Homeboy model, and it has spawned imitators across the globe. At the root of Father Greg’s philosophy is the importance of empathetic relationships in breaking the destructive mindset of “us vs. them.” As he notes, “The measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but only in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.”
Watch: Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship with Father Gregory Boyle – Burke Lectureship