Back in March I had the privilege of attending the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress and heard Father Greg Boyle, S. J. speak about his life among Los Angeles’ gang members and the many things he has learned from working with these amazing youth. Yes, I said amazing youth. Because if anyone has the ability to elicit the words “there by the grace of God go I” it’s these y0ung men and women who in most cases by the sheer geography of their birth have had to endure more horror, pain and struggle than anyone should ever face.
Father Greg, or G-dog as he is known to the homies he works with, started his talk by sharing the number of gang funerals he has presided over. It was in the hundreds. He then went on to say how much these boys and girls, because that’s what they were, really, in terms of age, had taught him about life and in all too many cases death. He spoke of gang members wanting desperately to get out of gangs, but worried that without an education or job, their gang life would follow them. He told us about using his own money to buy kids clothes for school so they wouldn’t be wearing gang colors. Most of all, he told us about Homeboy Industries, a business enterprise that puts former gang kids to work, producing everything from pan dulce at the bakery to t-shirts at the print shop. Funny how something as simple as giving a kid a job can keep him out of jail. Jobs not Jails, who would have thought?
Tattoos on the Heart
He told us about the kids who redeem themselves, and he told us about the kids who didn’t. He told us about the kids who couldn’t, because they were dead. He told us about the ones that are lost forever, because time and circumstances doomed them to a life none of us would choose. When he was finished, he shared with us the opportunity to learn more about these amazing kids, by reading his book, Tattoos on the Heart. Never one to pass up something to read, I went down to the Homeboy Industries booth in the Expo and bought it. Of course then I had to have Father Greg sign it. And he did. But not without leaving a mark on my heart.