Homeboy Industries: Lessons of What Extravagant Tenderness Can Do

You could bury your head in the sand, or you could roll up your sleeves. ~Father Greg Boyle, founder, Homeboy Industries

You know, I may not be able to carry what you’re carrying, but we can carry you. ~Father Greg Boyle, founder, Homeboy Industries

Greg Boyle, a newly-minted Jesuit priest, arrived in Boyle Heights in the late 1980s, eager to minister to this incredibly poor, gang-ridden and violent community.

And so, wet behind the ears, he expected to find himself the lowest on the totem pole – with one or two seasoned pastors above him.

He was surprised to learn that … he was it.

He was the only pastor. In fact, he was the youngest pastor in the history of the diocese.

And so he went about the difficult work of reaching out to this community – bridging gaps and forging relationships alone – with the benefit of limited experience, great instincts, and enormous heart.

He went for nightly walks through the neighborhoods and the various gang territories. Eventually he was gifted a bike so that he could travel even further, because the community considered his walks such a calming force.

And a calming force was exactly what Boyle Heights needed. It had the highest concentration of gang activity in Los Angeles, and as 1988 dragged on Father Boyle buried more and more gang members… young people he loved who had been violently murdered … by other young people that he loved.

But in the midst of this crisis Father Boyle did something rather amazing, even for a pastor.

He listened.

And he learned that what he now calls a “lethal absence of hope” was strangling this community. There were no jobs – even for those without felony convictions. (And the many felons living in Boyle Heights were essentially unemployable.) People who were hurting were hurting other people simply to mask their own pain. It was an endless cycle of despair, poverty, and suffering – sucking generation after generation into gang membership and violence.

But what other choice was there?

As Father Boyle once quipped, “nobody sets out to join a gang like ‘I’m going to join a gang to see the world!’“. No, they joined a gang as a last resort. When they had nothing, and nobody. And had lost hope.

Father Boyle took all of that information, and thought about it.

And then he did something. As he said, “you could bury your head in the sand, or you could roll up your sleeves.”

So he rolled up his sleeves and he started the precursor to what is now Homeboy Industries.

“Nothing stops a bullet like a job” was their first motto. (It’s now “Hope Has an Address.” I love them both.)

What started as a jobs creation program quickly morphed into a bakery, then a bakery and cafe, and now a bakery/cafe/tattoo removal/e-cycling/screen printing/therapy and education program. Oh – and it has a line of salsas (in four different flavors) and chips.

But at base, it’s not a business. Father Boyle says that Homeboy Industries doesn’t employ homies to make bread, Homeboy Industries makes bread to employ homies.

And that it does. Convicted felons can attend parenting classes in the morning, therapy in the afternoon, and work a shift at the Homegirl Cafe in the middle. Over 10k people seeking something more from life come through Homeboy Industry’s doors each year.

So many lives have been saved that it’s impossible to share each story. Convicted felons who’ve been locked up in every California state prison are now homeowners; one female gang member and former drug addict is now counseling others through a substance abuse program (while proclaiming rather hilariously “I thought hiking was just for white people!”); men whose fathers were absent are becoming the fathers they once needed themselves.

They once lacked hope. Now they’re the hope for others. As Father Boyle often says, “Everyone is better than the worst thing they’ve ever done.” And he gives everyone a chance – sometimes the first chance they’ve ever had – to live a life that’s reflective of who they are.

And the secret sauce? According to Father Boyle it’s the “extravagant tenderness” that people – all people – receive when they come in the doors of Homeboy Industries.

That’s it. Tenderness given with abundance. Compassion. A generous personal investment of heart, and time, and attention.

So. Why am I telling you this story? (Other than because it’s so incredibly powerful on its own that I cried multiple times when researching it?)

Because it’s another example of someone seeing something, feeling passionately about it, and doing something about it, even when they didn’t exactly know how to tackle it at first.

It’s about someone with no experience in starting a bakery (or cafe, or tattoo removal, or grocery product line) throwing caution to the wind because he knew something needed to happen. And rather than sitting on the sidelines and watching, he jumped in.

And he’s made one helluva difference.

And you know what else? This story is also about making sure you know that you have the same power.

Father Boyle’s secret sauce may be extravagant tenderness.

My secret sauce is my belief in you.

I believe in your power to make a difference – if you dare to use it. And I hope you do.

I hope you dare to be the one that acts when everyone else stays silent, or says they don’t know what to do, or talks themselves into feeling ineffective or unnecessary.

I hope you dare to recognize that you – you acting all by yourself with just the knowledge in your head and the passion in your heart – have the power to change the lives of tens of thousands of people. Heck, probably more!

And I hope you dare to go out there and live the crazy beautiful life that you’re meant to live.

You deserve it.

And the world will be a far better place for it.

Let’s get to work.

Psst: Read more stories of inspiring companies and people by checking out the Inspiration from Good Deeds and Inspiring Companies and People categories.


Tuesday: Trump Admin’s Violence Against Women (Calling All Folks With Democratic Legislators!)

Follow me into the weeds again a bit here, folks.

The Violence Against Women Act was created in 1994, and in its 2004 renewal legislation, the Office of Violence Against Women was established. Its essential functions involve issuing grants to groups working to combat violence against women.

In April of last year, the OVAW changed its definition of violence against women. Prior to that point, violence against women had been defined to include emotional, verbal, and mental abuse and economic control. Then, suddenly and without warning, that definition changed.

Now “violence against women” only includes “felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence”.

So punching a spouse would be covered… but not threatening to take the kids, locking them in a room at night, screaming at them nonstop, or cataloging their every move.

It’s a huge step backwards for women, and has gotten worldwide attention. (Not the good kind.)

But there’s a funny thing about agencies. Sure, they’re staffed by the POTUS.

But they’re created by … Congress.

That’s right! Congress gives agencies their jurisdiction and authority to make decisions to implement the legislation that Congress has created. That means that, in theory at least, Congress can simply mandate what definition the OVAW must use.

As my mom would say, “What the good lord giveth, the good lord can taketh away.”

And, making this a particularly timely issue, the appropriations to keep the government open run out in a few weeks. So it might be possible to make that definition change in the bill, along with the extension of the Violence Against Women Act.

I’ve already called my Congressman (who is a Democrat). I was directed to the policy person that I’d need to speak with more closely about this, and have already sent her an email. I’m pasting what I wrote below for you to use as a script.

I know the Violence Against Women Act established the Office of the Violence Against Women.

The Office of Violence Against Women, as understand it, is tasked with implementing the VAWA and awarding grants, etc.

The OVAW changed its definition of violence against women in April of last year to be significantly more restrictive. It no longer includes emotional/verbal/economic abuse, and requires physical violence. That’s a significant departure from past practice.

My question is this: As OVAW was created with and has the powers delegated to it by Congress, is it possible for Congress to legislate the definition of violence against women that must be used by the agency? In other words, if Congress saw fit to, could it mandate that the agency use the prior definition (or a set definition that is agreed to within congress)?

My second question is: if the answer to my first question is ‘yes,’ can that definition be changed within the appropriations bill that will keep the government open?

Thanks in advance for your time and attention. If it’s easier to talk by phone, you can reach me at XXX-XXXX.

This is a situation where folks with Democrats representing them in the House can do a lot of pushing. So let’s ask these questions of our leaders and let them know that we expect them to find ways to fix the messes that the Trump team makes.

I’ll keep you guys updated if and when I hear back from my congresscritter. Pinky swear that you’ll do the same with me, okay?

Wed: Have You Missed Postcards to Voters? Good News!

Get out those markers! Postcards to Voters has ramped back up again, working with some special election candidates. Thousands of people across the country are getting their coloring on and doing what they can to GOTV with fun, colorful, thoughtful postcards that send a bit of encouragement and sunshine. If you’re interested, visit Tony the Democrat and Postcards to Voters at https://postcardstovoters.org on text JOIN to (484) 275-2229.

And if you’re curious as to whether postcards work, here’s an interesting article for you to check out! (Spoiler alert: experts say yes!)

Thursday: It’s Getting Pretty … Extreme

As we all look at Chicago (poor, poor Chicago) getting put into a -24F deep freeze, while our Tweeter-In-Chief spreads misinformation about climate change, it’s easy to feel equal parts terrified and powerless.

But climate change is an existential crisis, folks. This is the big enchilada. And frankly, that’s hard to even conceptualize.

So don’t be surprised when you see a few more action items focused on climate change and the environment in the next few months.

Today, check out this incredible blog post from Going Zero Waste that gives you more sustainable items to use instead of the disposable ones we’re used to. Then check out her Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide to Going Zero Waste

You can even take her 30 day zero waste challenge. (!!) Even if you aren’t interested in going zero waste, I’ll bet you can find a tip or two in those posts that will help you cut down on how much you throw away. And just understanding the impact that have every day (the average person throws away 4.4 pounds of trash A DAY!) will probably help you curb your trashy habits.

Know of other resources and ideas that would help us reduce our carbon footprint or environmental impact? Comments please! I’m always looking for more resources.

Friday: China Fights Back … By Refusing Our TRASH (i.e. Learn How to Recycle!)

Here we are in the weeds again.

Trump’s temper tantrums with China have caused our farmers to lose their biggest buyers and our manufacturers to see steep hikes on the raw materials they need to make products.

But now they’re targeting our trash!

For the past 20 years, China has been accepting 45% of the WORLD’s recycled waste. Like, 70% of ours. More than 60% of the UK’s. It’s … a lot.

No more.

China put its foot down in 2017-18 and said it’s not taking any more plastic recycling (and now paper, too) that is more than .5% contaminated. That’s a really high standard – even the most methodical recycling plants have a 4% contamination rate. So that goopy orange juice pulp, or the greasy bottom of a pizza box can cause a whole bale of recycling to get scrapped.

I’m not being alarmist when I say it’s thrown the entire state of the recycling industry into chaos.

Some cities are doing more hand sorting and working darn hard to get bales under the contamination standards set by China. But you and I can do our part to make that job easier, can’t we?

First, try to reuse what you can. Then, when you can’t reuse it anymore, check out how to recycle properly.

How to recycle paper.

How to recycle metal.

How to recycle your old electronics!

P.S.: Yes! Some of you have asked if I write for a living, and the answer is “I sure do!” Visit www.mhornish.com to learn more.

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

P.P.P.S: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

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