Hundreds of Marymount California University students filled The Commons – and even flowed out onto the nearby pool deck – on Tuesday, October 30, to listen to Homeboy Industries founder Father Gregory Boyle. His messages were simple but deeply inspirational: “obliterate the idea we’re separate” and “see those in the margins and feel kinship.”
Fr. Boyle explained that building kinship starts with service. Not the kind of service that sees one as the service provider and the other as the service receiver. That separates us and makes kinship elusive. Instead, he encouraged service that is mutual. “We’re not all service providers and service receivers,” he said. “Close the gap and all be one. It’s mutual.”
Homeboy Industries is the largest gang-intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world. It employs and trains former gang members in a range of social enterprises, as well as provides critical services to thousands of men and women who walk through its doors every year seeking a better life. As pastor in the 1980s and 1990s of Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights, Father Boyle witnessed the devastating impact of gang violence on his community during the so-called “decade of death”.
In the face of criminal justice policies of suppression and mass incarceration to end gang violence, he and his parish and community members adopted what was a radical approach: treat gang members as human beings. Build kinship with them and help them build kinship among each other- including former deadly rivals.
During Tuesday’s lecture, Fr. Boyle, or “Father G” as he’s affectionately known, shared stories about the kinship shared by the former gang members who make up the “homies” at Homeboy Industries. He also shared stories of some homies who suffered heart-wrenching abuse that led them down tragic paths, which made all the more heartwarming the redemption Fr. Boyle and Homeboy Industries helped them achieve. “We’re all a whole lot more that the worst things we’ve ever done,” he told the audience.
Homeboy Industries is run by the homies, all former gang members, and they have been instrumental in building it into the positive, transformative resource it is today. “If you go to the margins and listen, some good ideas come out of it. [For example], tattoo removal wasn’t my idea. It came from the homies.” After starting, they soon had 3,000 gang members who wanted tattoos removed.
“Father G referenced the apostles in the Book of Acts in the New Testament when the Apostle Luke said, ‘Truly awe came upon us all.’ That seemed to be the feeling in the room after Father G’s remarks,” said MCU president Brian Marcotte. “We were all uplifted and — in my case — humbled in hearing his message. It was fantastic that we had standing-room-only attendance from Marymount students, faculty and staff, plus many from our local neighbors.”
In his closing words to the hundreds of Marymount students gathered, he told them:
“Marymount is not where you’ve come, but where you go from. Here’s the truth, you’re exactly what God had in mind when he made you. Look to the margins and listen… See those in the margins and feel kinship.”
This event was organized by criminal justice professor Kristine Twomey and was part of the university’s David Meid Lecture Series. Thanks to the generosity of the Meid and Macfarlane Foundation, every year Marymount California University brings to campus a visiting speaker and mentor. Meid mentors present on themes of cross-disciplinary relevance, visit classes and meet with students, faculty and staff. Learn more about this lecture series at https://www.marymountcalifornia.edu/academics/meid-mentor/.