Father Greg Boyle Helps Gang Members Find a New Way
Father Greg Boyle isn’t one to take life how it is. While most Jesuit priests don’t have “homies” at their side, Father Boyle does, and he’s on a mission to change much more than just the conventional image of a priest.
After being ordained as a priest in 1984, Father Boyle found himself preaching in an area of Los Angeles know for gang activity. Inspired by early work with gang members, Boyle founded Homeboy Industries, the largest gang member rehabilitation location in the world, with more than 400 employees.
At Saint Mary’s last week, Father Boyle and two of his “homies” shared stories filled with the emotion, sadness, laughter and determination that have come to define his life’s work.
“For 25 years, I have had the great privilege of working with gang members,” said Father Boyle. “Boy, have they taught me everything of value!”
These teachings are evident in the mission of Homeboy Industries, which Father Boyle compared to the vision held by Saint Mary’s College: “wanting, in the end, for the world to look different than it currently looks.”
A Community of Kinship
Helping people lose their gang affiliations is one way the world can be changed, but Father Boyle feels there is more to the services of Homeboy Industries. “We want to create a community of kinship so, in fact, God might recognize it,” said Father Boyle.
Homeboy Industries is a vital link and support group for individuals who have often lost their livelihood, families and social ties and need skills to create a new kind of future for themselves and others.
“I think Mother Teresa diagnosed the worlds ills correctly when she suggested that the problem in the world is that we’ve just forgotten that we belong to each other,” said Boyle. “How do we obliterate once and for all the illusion that we are separate?”
He is doing his part, proving that no storied past is enough to prevent a successful change of focus in life. Gang members are people, too, he likes to say.
The surprising sense of kinship they share was apparent during Father Boyle’s successful battle with leukemia. When word got out about his illness, the response by his “homies” was overwhelming.
“It was just very sweet. This showed me there is a kinship, that we are together. There is no us and them; it’s just us,” said Father Boyle. “I would not trade this period of my life for anything, as uncomfortable as it was.”
Finding a Better Life
At the Soda Center event, sponsored by Mission & Ministry, two of Father Boyle’s “homies” shared their experiences with Homeboy Industries.
Mario Cisneros said that even after being in and out of jail and experiencing the murder of his brother, he “still didn’t learn.” But when depression set in as a result of the choices he’d made and the ordeals he had endured, Cisneros realized he had to change his life.
“Everything wasn’t a joke after that. I started realizing this isn’t cool,” said Cisneros. “A friend told me to go Homeboy Industries. I started working and I started realizing the life I was living wasn’t it. There is more out there. Ever since then, I feel great. I am just happy to still be alive and share my work.”
Joseph Singleton lived life with no limits and no thought of his future. Then, after he was released from prison, his cousin, Danny Martinez, helped change his life forever.
“He told me, ‘I want you to choose the right route this time and stay out,’” said Singleton. He introduced him to Homeboy Industries, and Singleton began taking classes on any subject he could and devoted his life to his children and his family, something that was absent from his youth. The kinship and community that Father Boyle has worked so hard to establish is evident to Singleton.
Everyone Is Welcomed
“When I walk into Homeboys, you see every race, every ethnicity. You see blacks, whites, Asians, “eses,” Crips, Bloods – everything,” said Singleton. “You never see this, everybody getting along with each other, talking with each other, actually shaking each other’s hands. It put a smile on my face.”
Even those caught up in gang affiliations have a chance to establish kinship in life, and Father Boyle knows “folks on the fringe just want a little attention.”
A little attention has done wonders for Singleton and countless others who have worked with Father Boyle and Homeboy Industries.
“It’s about being a man now. By going through the system and having my kids, it opened my eyes,” said Singleton. “I have people that are proud of me right now. I’m proud of myself and I’m sure my kids are proud of me too.”
By Dan Murphy ’13