Founder of Homeboy Industries emphasizes the role of kinship in gang intervention

Father Gregory Boyle

By Somi Jun, Corrrespondent
Father Gregory Boyle, founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries, is 62 years old, balding, and doesn’t quite understand how to text., Two “homeboys” called Manuel and Snoopy shared with him one of their recent text conversations, a series of jokes about which of them would be the “ugliest vato” in the world. Boyle spoke about the importance of kinship and mutuality in supporting the two men, who were once rival gang members, in a talk at Princeton University Feb. 22, “Manuel and Snoopy are enemies. They used to shoot bullets at each other, as I remember, and now they shoot text messages. There’s a word for that, and the word is kinship,” Boyle said. “No matter how singularly focused we may well be on those worthy goals, they actually can’t happen unless there’s some undergirding sense that we are kin.”, Boyle is a Jesuit-educated priest who founded Homeboy in 1992, in response to a wave of gang violence in hotspots of 1980s and 1990s Los Angeles. Homeboy started as one bakery that hired gang members out of prisons or off the streets, and grew into a network of businesses that provided job training, legal services, mental health, and other rehabilitation programs to formerly incarcerated or gang-involved people. Today, Homeboy is the largest gang intervention program in the world., “Nobody ever intends to do something like this. We really have evolved, we have backed our way into being the largest scale gang rehabilitation and intervention program on the planet,” Boyle said. “About 15,000 folks a year walk through our doors.”, Boyle described the type of healthy, mutualistic community that he hopes to facilitate in Homeboy, modeled on the kinship of the early apostles. In particular, he said that we should be in awe at what the poor have to carry, rather than in judgment of how they carry it., He related the story of one “homeboy” named Jose, who spoke at a conference in Richmond about the abuse he faced from his mother and how he has accepted his wounds as a way to help heal others., “Awe came upon everyone,” Boyle said. “The fact of the matter is, if we don’t welcome our own wounds, we will be tempted to despise the wounded.”, Today, there are 141 program modeled after Homeboy in America, and 15 abroad. They convene for a three-day conference every year, but resist the idea of simply supplanting Homeboy’s system into different cities. Boyle emphasized the need for such programs to grow from the ground up and prioritize the local community.

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