Homeboy Industries

You wouldn’t know it from this crusty, grizzled exterior (not that you can see my exterior, but take my word for it), but I turn out of bed every Sunday morning by 6 a.m. to listen to On Being on NPR. The host, Krista Tippett, interviews a range of people, from clerics to scientists, on topics broadly defined as “spirituality”.

Ordinarily, I would run screaming from the room at the very thought, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did. Depending on the guest, I still do.

This morning, even as I write, I am listening to an interview with Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has worked with gangs in Los Angeles for decades. He began his ministry trying to bring peace to rival gangs, until he realized that, as he put it, to work with gangs is to give them oxygen. Gangs don’t kill out of logic or need, they just kill. And he was done with them.

So he opened a business for ex-gang members, Homeboy Industries, and there, in the midst of cruelty and hopelessness, he found his calling. He couldn’t place his homies with established businesses—a criminal record makes for a poor resume—so he set about creating his own. Now, it’s an empire, if by diner, cafe, market, etc., you can call it an empire. He’s had his successes and failures too: in the interview, he mentions having recently buried the 183rd member of his flock over a quarter century. (And Homeboy Plumbing went down the drain.)

I suppose that’s what grabs me about this interview. There is no make-up on the ugly face of cruelty. He has seen more evil than the rest of us combined, and out of his myriad failures, he has managed to create good. No, that’s not right: find good, channel good, collect good. As much for himself as for his homies.

You’ll need to be curious enough to pursue this on your own. I’ve given you the links. But if you do check it out, listen long enough to hear the story about the three t-shirts. It will change you. You may find your own such moments in the course of the conversation. You’ll never hear the expression “the feeling’s mutual” again.

Longer version of the interview on You Tube.

Leave a Comment