Homeboy Industries is a pretty cool gang intervention organization here in Los Angeles. It's sort of like a guns for jobs program, and it's been an anti-gang leader in Southern California. The nonprofit's founder and leader, Father Greg Boyle, is a Jesuit priest who started the Jobs For a Future program while still serving as the pastor of the Dolores Mission parish in Boyle Heights.
With the addition of a small bakery in a run-down warehouse across the street from Dolores Mission, JFF had its own business, one where it could hire the most challenging, difficult to place young people in a safe environment. The hope was that they could learn both concrete and soft job skills, to make them stronger, better prepared candidates for permanent employment. A tortilla stand in Grand Central Market downtown solidified the evolution of JFF into Homeboy Industries.
Pretty interesting, right?
You'd never know any of Homeboy's religious roots, however, if you just read news stories about the organization. I had to get the above details from Homeboy Industries' website (and a little from Wikipedia).
Sure, news reports always refer to Boyle as Father Greg Boyle. But they never mention what he is a father of or whether the Jesuit priest is still leading a parish or whether Homeboy Industries has any affiliation with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Even the stories about Homeboy Industries running out of money last year and having to lay off it's entire staff make no mention of religion -- though by referring to Boyle as "Father" they are begging the question of where is the Catholic Church's assistance for this valuable inner-city program.
I was reminded of this consistent journalistic omission when I heard a report on KPCC (Southern California Public Radio) about Homeboy's new partnership with Ralph's market that would have Homeboy chips and salsa on the shelves of some 200 grocery stores. That report, which has not been added to KPCC's online archive, made no mention of anything Catholic -- not even that Father Boyle's pupils had been turning their lives around by preparing food since his anti-gang mission was still being run out of the Dolores Mission parish.
There weren't a lot of stories about the Homeboy Industries chips-and-salsa experiment, but those I found weren't much better. This story from Fox 11 is pretty indicative of how Homeboy gets reported on:
Founded in 1992, Homeboy Industries provides at-risk youth and former gang members with counseling, tutoring, mental health care, tattoo removal and employment. Its motto: "Nothing stops a bullet like a job."
Through the creation of several small businesses, hard-to-place individuals have a chance to thrive in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn both job skills, Boyle said. To date, Homeboy Industries has rehabilitated about 12,000 gang members.
The businesses include Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Caf & Catering, Homeboy Merchandise and Homeboy Silkscreen and Embroidery. Pending ventures include a branch of Homegirl Cafe at LAX and a Homeboy Market at City Hall.
All that is good and true. But, as already mentioned, Homeboy Industries' history pre-dates its official founding and renaming. It's a Catholic history, and it's certainly something that gives purpose to Father Boyle's mission. It shouldn't be overlooked or ignored.