The List is a weekly feature highlighting something remarkable, offbeat, or otherwise noteworthy from the world of the Jesuits and Ignatian spirituality.Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ has buried more than 140 of his young friends. One of the toughest funerals was Chico’s. After the funeral, he wrote, “I inform myself that I really must let this grief in.”
Too long, I had suspended my own profound sense of loss here, and dutifully placed it on my emotional back burner. I needed to be there for Chico’s family, his girlfriend, his homies. I gave myself permission then, to allow this pain into some cherished, readied place in my heart. Every homie’s death recalls all the previous ones and they all arrive at once in a rush. I’m caught off guard, as well, by the sudden realization that Chico’s burial is the eighth in a three week period.
That’s part of the ugly reality of working with members of gangs in Los Angeles, which Fr. Boyle has been doing for the past two decades. About 500 people were murdered in gang violence in LA last year–a horrifying number, but it’s about half of the annual death toll 10 years ago.
When gang members look for a different way of life, many of them turn to Homeboy Industries, which Fr. Boyle founded in the late 80s. Homeboy offers job training and placement and other free services. But it’s best known for its small businesses, which employ former gang members who don’t have the skills or work habits necessary for regular jobs. The businesses include a bakery, landscape service, a silkscreen shop, and variety store. The newest venture is Homeboy Press, which publishes books and a literary magazine and teaches young people the skills of design and typesetting.
Young people from more than half of LA’s 1100 known gangs have sought a second chance at Homeboy Industries. This video explains its work.