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.
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 baked goods and merch.
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. That’s the secret sauce.
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.
Actions for the Week of February 14, 2023
Join Indivisible Chicago to Flip the WI Supreme Court!
On Wednesday from 5-7 central, Indivisible Chicago will host a phone bank to turn out Democrats. From the organizers: The most important election you never heard of is coming February 21 to Wisconsin— the “nonpartisan primary” to elect a new Supreme Court judge. This little-known election gives us a big chance to correct the course of Wisconsin politics for years to come. Electing a progressive here will give us a 4-3 majority on the court, which will help Governor Tony Evers protect the state (and the nation!) against the extremism of its egregiously gerrymandered state legislature. Will Wisconsin start enforcing an abortion ban passed in 1849? Will voter suppression and rigged election rules favor Republicans in ways that could tip the 2024 elections? These questions and many more are on the ballot.
This election will be decided in two steps: in the February 21 primary voters will choose two candidates who will face off in April. We’re working to ensure that at least one of them is a progressive who will stand up for women’s rights, fair elections, and the rule of law. The way to do that is to turn out as many Democrats as we can in the few days we have left. Our phone banks have a national rep for thorough training and patient one-on-one support. Join us! Register HERE
Join Promote the Vote PA and Help Folks Apply for Mail-In Ballots
Attention texters! Help reach out to PA voters & remind them it’s time to reapply for their annual Mail-in Ballots on Saturday, Feb. 18th and 25th from 1 – 4 PM EST, to text voters important information about re-applying for their annual Mail-in Ballots for 2023! We know voting by mail is safe, secure, & convenient. It helps establish good voting habits and increases voter turnout! Sign up HERE.
Join Activate America to Hear their Plan to Take Back the House!
H/T to Jessica at Chop Wood Carry Water! Activate America has a plan to take back the House that starts with the many competitive House races in California and New York. (I think there are more seats to contest, but I’m looking forward to what they have to say!)
They hope you’ll join them at their webinar this Wednesday at 5 PM Pacific / 8 PM Eastern to learn all about it. Register HERE
APPLY TO BE A YOUTH DEMOCRACY LEADER (Deadline 2/19)
H/T Rogan’s List! The Civics Center is accepting applications for its free, semester-long program that teaches students “to see themselves as leaders in their community, gain experience in organizing, cultivate advocacy skills, and collaborate on tactics for making change.” Application deadline is February 19. Let’s share with the young people in our lives and encourage them to apply.
WHEW! GO, YOU!
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.
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.S: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.