Jesuit Father Greg Boyle receives his Loaves & Fishes Award from Archbishop George Niederauer and Catholic Charities CYO Executive Director Jeff Bialik at the 14th Annual Loaves & Fishes Dinner, held March 4 at the St. Regis Hotel in SF.
Father Greg Boyle receives Loaves & Fishes Award for gang outreach
March 9th, 2011
By George Raine
In nearly 25 years of building what is now the nation’s largest gang intervention and re-entry program, Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, Jesuit Father Greg Boyle has never met anyone who was seeking something when he joined a gang. Quite the contrary.
“They are always fleeing from something,” Father Boylesaid March 4 at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco. “There are no exceptions.” Whether that be dysfunctional family, abuse, torture, alcohol and drug abuse, negligent parenting – “there is always something,” he said.
Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang, too, he said, so Homeboy Industries – its motto is “Nothing Stops a Bullet Like a Job” – serves up hope.
Father Boyle, the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries, was in San Francisco Friday to receive the 2011 Loaves & Fishes Award for Faith in Action, presented by Catholic Charities CYO of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, at the St. Regis Hotel. The event also honors people who have given $2,500 or more per year in support of Catholic Charities CYO’s services to more than 30,000 clients annually.
CCCYO Executive Director Jeff Bialik had heard Father Boyle in a National Public Radio interview. Loaves & Fishes Award planners heard it too, and the decision to honor him was close to instantaneous, said Bialik, “because the work he is doing is phenomenal.”
“I think that work should be informing our work,” said Bialik, “because what we are seeing in part of our community is an increase in gang activity, a serious issue throughout the archdiocese. It is critically important that we look for ways to get in front of that.”
He added, “Father Boyle’s commitment to helping youth choose a positive path to a better future is as inspiring as it is critical for the sustainability of our communities.”
Father Boyle’s career choice of working with the poor and the marginalized took shape when he joined the Society of Jesus and was confirmed when he worked in Bolivia after his ordination.
He was then assigned to Dolores Mission Church in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, ground zero for gangs in a challenged area. He buried his first gang member in 1988 and his 174th three weeks ago.
Also in 1988, Father Boyle started a “Jobs for a Future” program at Dolores Mission, and, in 1992, launched a business to employ former gang members, Homeboy Bakery. Today there’s Homeboy Silkscreen, Homeboy Maintenance, Homeboy Merchandise and Homegirl Cafe – servers come with tattoos and attitude, he said – and other activities that give jobs, training and hope.
“A gang is a place kids go to when they have accounted their life as a misery,” Father Boyle said in an interview before giving a talk hosted by the Little Children’s Aid Junior Auxiliary at St. Ignatius. “And misery loves company.”
The prevailing cultural myth is that kids are “attracted, lured, drawn to gangs,” but there is no “pull factor, only a push factor,” Father Boyle said.
“Even if a gang member says, ‘Wow, when I was a kid that is what I wanted, to join a gang, see the world, wine, women and song,’ it is not true,” he said. “It’s none of the above. It is just because they can’t honestly talk about what they have had to flee. But they all have that in common.”
The day Father Boyle was honored, there was news of renewed gang activity in the Mission District of San Francisco – a man was killed, a sidewalk memorial for the victim was trashed, and, in return, a man was shot. Father Boyle’s diagnosis was this: “There are no hopeful kids engaged in this war in the Mission District.”
He added, “Hope is the antidote. The best delivery system of hope to kids who are struggling, especially younger ones, is a loving, caring adult who pays attention to them. That’s the way it works.”
His work has shown dividends. There were 1,000 gang-related homicides in Los Angeles in 1992, “and what has happened since then is they have been cut in half and cut in half again,” said Father Boyle. “Do I think Homebody Industries had anything to do with that? Absolutely. There is no place that engages more gang members than Homeboy.” By his estimate, Homeboy Industries saves Los Angeles County $20 million annually that would otherwise be spent on gang problems.
From March 11, 2011 issue of Catholic San Francisco.