Brenna von den Benken
Father Gregory Boyle, founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries, presented his book “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion,” as part of the Katharine Howard Miller Endowed Speakers Program on Tuesday at Scripps College’s Balch Auditorium in Claremont.
About 200 guests, more than a full house, filled the auditorium to welcome Father Boyle and witness his comedic flare of inspirational intervention.
“Tattoos on the Heart” reveals the essence of mutual understanding between today’s former gang members who are redirecting their lives and society’s average citizens.
“With kinship, we would no longer be promoting justice; we would be celebrating it,” Boyle said.
Since 1986, Boyle has been the priest of Dolores Mission in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The church is located between two large public housing projects known for decades as the “gang capital of the world.”
Boyle, an expert on gangs and intervention approaches, relays his experiences working within this neighborhood in his book.
Homeboy Industries traces its roots to “Jobs for a Future,” a program created by Boyle in 1988 at Dolores Mission parish.
Homeboy Industries is a series of nonprofit economic development enterprises which include Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen, Homeboy Maintenance, Homeboy and Homegirl Merchandise, and Homegirl Café.
Their programs assist at-risk and former gang-involved youth to become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training, and education.
The programs also allow rival gang members to work side by side in harmony, enabling young men and women to redirect their lives.
“We need to work with the disposable so that the day may come when we stop throwing people away,” Boyle said.
Teams of mental health counselors, anger management, parenting, grief and loss, alcoholics anonymous and other support groups guide the homies through their journey at Homeboy Industries.
“Most mistakes, you can’t erase, but tattoos aren’t one of them,” Boyle said.
Homeboy Industries also provides tattoo removals for ex-convicts and ex-gang members who want to start anew.
Boyle has received numerous accolades on behalf of Homeboy Industries, including the California Peace Prize granted by the California Wellness Foundation in 2000, and the 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
“It’s more than just a book; it’s more of an inspirational project that everybody should invest in nationally and even globally,” guest Monica Lopez said. “Gangs can be found anywhere, so it’s important to start with even the smallest efforts such as tattoo removal.”
Although Boyle’s intervention efforts were first greeted with hostility by the community in the first decade of Homeboy Industries’ founding, the following decade gained much support.
“We got bomb threats and hate mail from the community because they though the friend of their enemy is an enemy,” Boyle said.
In 1999, an unidentified arsonist burned down the Homeboy Bakery.
“However, today, people rally in support of our efforts,” Boyle said. “It goes to show that people do change and that demonizing is out of style.”
Boyle maintains a familial relationship with his “homies.”
“I just finished texting several guys who won’t see the light of day for a while because they’re in prison,” Boyle said.
“He’s funny. It’s very important to be charming in society if you want to be an effective influence,” guest Magdalena Merlo said. “No one listens to a boring person.”
In the future, Boyle hopes that “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion” and Homeboy Industries serve as a model for change and kinship.
After the talk, a limited number of copies of the book sold out at the reception in the Hampton Room where Boyle did signings and desserts catered by Homeboy Bakery were served.
Brenna von den Benken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.