I recently visited Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles and got to know a few of the homies who work there. Founded by Father Gregory Boyle in 1992, Homeboy Industries provides an empowering alternative to inner city violence for hundreds of former gang members – many of whom have been recently released from prison – through counseling and recovery groups, a tattoo-removal service, job training and placement, and on-site employment at Homeboy Silkscreen, Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Merchandising, and Homegirl Cafe. You can read more about Father Boyle’s extraordinary work in his book, Tattoos on the Heart.
One of the most compelling aspects of Boyle’s work is how it all began when, in 1986, he would ride his bike nightly through the gang-plagued housing projects of Boyle Heights and befriend the homies, who eventually came to know him as “G.” On more than one occasion, he found himself unwittingly riding his bike into the middle of a gun-fight between rival gang members. And yet he was undeterred.
Today, Homeboy Industries and its many programs are so well-known among the projects of Los Angeles that Boyle no longer needs to ride his bike into the middle of gun-fights. The homies now come to him when they are finally ready to make a change and lay down their weapons, and there are so many of them now that Boyle cannot take them all in. Even still, his movement of boundless compassion has saved the lives of thousands of men and women, and will save thousands more.
Boyle’s well-ridden bike is now retired on permanent display – a timeless symbol, a holy relic of a man who dared to ride into the hostile neighborhoods of complete strangers and refused to ride out until he could call them friends. Boyle’s mission calls to mind the opening scene of the Gospel of John, in which we are told that “The Word became flesh, and entered the neighborhood.” Jesus came to us as a stranger. When he left, he called us “friends.” The neighborhood was never the same again.
If you could take a ride on Father Boyle’s bike, into what neighborhood of strangers would it take you?
Photo Credit: Sherlock 77 (James)