By Oliver Kaplan
In the wake of his recent recognition as the 2016 Humanitarian of the Year from the James Beard Foundation, Father Greg Boyle 72’ reflected on his journey from editor-in-chief of The Loyalist to found one of the most successful gang intervention, rehab and reentry program in the world, Homeboy Industries.
In 1968, Boyle was a fresh faced student at Loyola High School. In the following four years, Boyle was engaged by the Jesuit teachings to such a degree that he decided to join the Society of Jesus in 1972. Boyle especially remembered both the hilarious and prophetic company of the many Jesuits during those years.
After graduating from Loyola, Boyle studied at both Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount University before venturing into humanitarian work. Boyle spent a year in Bolivia, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere at the time, after college, and the experience drastically changed him. Boyle described the experience as “a heartrending and refreshing experience” that “turned him inside out” in terms of his view of society as a whole.
During his time there, Boyle said he applied lessons from Loyola to his everyday life in Bolivia.
“Loyola prepared me to find the joy outside of yourself; in self-forgetting, service and concern for the other,” Boyle said.
After returning from Bolivia, Boyle asked his Provincial to send him to the poorest place available, which was Dolores Mission Church in East Los Angeles. Within the first days of Boyle’s pastoral duty at Dolores, he realized that he was amid the territories of several gangs. Instead of asking his Provincial to send him to a different parish, Boyle began riding his bike around the neighborhood in an effort to get to know the locals, who turned out to be gang members.
After helping gang members on the side for a few years, Boyle started Homeboy Industries in 1988.
Upon starting Homeboy, Boyle said, “Gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope. Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang.”
Ever since, Boyle has been successfully running Homeboy Industries and continues to help the helpless and marginalized.
After more than 28 years at Homeboy, Boyle said it never gets easier to bury one of his “homies.”
Boyle said, “This week, I will bury my 216th young person killed because of gang violence. These tragic moments don’t shake your faith; instead, they shape your faith. They help you put first things recognizably first.”
Boyle won the James Beard Humanitarian of the Year Award, but he didn’t commend himself for his selfless work for the past 28 years; rather, he commended the gang members.
He said, “The JPL award is a recognition of the courageous journey of the thousands of gang members who have found healing through Homeboy Industries.”
Homeboy continues to thrive due to generous contributions and operates businesses like the Homeboy Bakery, the Homeboy Silkscreen and Embroidery shop and the Homegirl Café. Homeboy held a five-kilometer run on October 22, 2016, to help raise money for programs such as tattoo removal, work readiness and job training. They raised over $200,000 from donations ranging from CBS to the homies themselves. Students can help Father Boyle and Homeboy Industries create “a community of tenderness and exquisite mutuality” by visiting their website.