In 1986, Gregory Boyle, a native Angeleno and recently ordained Jesuit priest, returned from a transformative year working with the poor in Bolivia to become the pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights, the poorest Catholic parish in Los Angeles at the time. Located amidst Aliso Village and Pico Gardens, then the largest public housing west of the Mississippi River with the highest concentration of gang activity in a city that was the gang capital of the nation.
“We stand with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”– Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries
Father Boyle refers to the years from 1988 to 1998 as the “decade of death,” when gang violence surged in Los Angeles. In the face of law enforcement tactics and criminal justice policies that used suppression and mass incarceration to end gang violence, Boyle, and parish and community members sought solutions as problems escalated. They addressed the needs of young gang members by establishing an alternative school, day care program, and creating legitimate employment. Calling this initial effort Jobs for a Future, they infused hope in kids for whom hope was foreign, who suffered from intergenerational gang violence, lack of opportunity, and social prejudice.
“Gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope,” said Father Boyle. “Gangs are the places kids go when they discover their life to be a misery, and misery loves company…Hope is an essential thing. Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang.”
In the wake of the 1992 riots, Jobs for a Future and Proyecto Pastoral, a community-organizing project begun at Dolores Mission, launched their first social enterprise in an abandoned bakery across the street from the church that Hollywood film producer Ray Stark helped them purchase. They called it Homeboy Bakery. Enemy gang members worked side by side baking bread.
The success of the bakery fostered additional social enterprises, and in 2001, Jobs for a Future became Homeboy Industries. Its social enterprises now include Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery, Homegirl Café and Catering, Homeboy Apparel and Merchandise, Homeboy Foods, Homeboy Diner in LA City Hall, Homeboy Farmers Markets, and Homeboy Electronics Recycling.
Each year, Homeboy Industries provides hope, training, and support to the nearly 10,000 formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women who walk through the doors of its headquarters on the edge of Chinatown. The company is offering what Father Boyle calls an “exit ramp” from the chaos and violence they have known, helping them reorient their lives to become productive members of their communities. In its flagship 18-month-re-entry program, more than 200 people work in full-time positions in Homeboy’s social enterprises. Along with its employment and training opportunities, Homeboy offers a range of critical services, from education assistance, drug counseling, and parenting classes to mental-health support and tattoo removal.
The establishment of the Global Homeboy Network five years ago for non-profits across the nation and world has made Homeboy Industries the leader in the movement for violence reduction strategies. Programs crafted after Homeboy model target marginalized populations emphasizing trauma-informed healing, kinship and tenderness as intervention methods.
Radical Kinship: Celebrating 30 Years of Homeboy Industries commemorates the founding of this vibrant and vital Los Angeles entity, now the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.