Nothing good happens in our lives or our business until we see things as they are and decide to change. [more]
A few weeks ago, I saw a presentation from Father Gregg Boyle, founder and operator of Home Boy Industries in Los Angeles.
Father Gregg, or “G” as he likes to be called by the former gang members he serves, is an inspiration to many people engaged in the business of good.
I just finished reading his new book, “Tattoos on the Heart” which along with his presentation provides me much food for thought.
Boyle has spent twenty-some years among the gangs of Los Angeles. In the beginning, as the pastor of a small parish nestled between two projects, he took an aggressive stance – trying to negotiate peace treaties among the gangs and providing a place of peace (his parish, The Delores Mission) in order to stem the senseless killings.
The mission achieved some success but over time Boyle felt that by negotiating with gangs, he was giving credit to their existence.
The resulting change in strategy caused the birth of Home Boy Industries. Their theme still in use today, “Nothing Stops a Bullet Like a Job”, describes their strategy.
(To enjoy the whole story, check their website www.homeboy-industries.org and/or read the book.)
The summary description of HBI is contained in their mission, “Homeboy Industries assists at-risk and formerly gang-involved youth to become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training and education.”
The businesses contained in Home Boy Industries – among them Home Boy Bakery, Home Girl Café and Home Boy Silk Screening – have employed hundreds of former gang members since 1988 and generate annual income in the low 8-figure range. All of the income is used to provide opportunity through education, training and such services as tattoo removal so that gang members can choose to leave lives of crime and poverty behind.
And while specific impact of specific programs is always hard to discern, gang violence is down some 40% in the last 5 years in Los Angeles and is a fraction of what it was at its peak – 1988 to 1998.
Boyle’s book is somewhat disjointed but I eventually got the hang of it and it was an inspiring read for me. In it, he espouses his theories of “boundless compassion” and recounts many true stories of his years on the street.
One of my favorite, and the topic of this article, is about Omar, a 17 year old who had been in and out of detention since he was 12. “G” had run into Omar over these years and one day when they were visiting in the dayroom at the prison, Omar asked Father Boyle:
“How many homies have you buried, G?”
“Seventy-Five, son”, Father Boyle replied. (Today the number is 168.)
“Damn, seventy-five? When’s it gonna end?”
Father grabbed his hand, locked eyes and said, “Mijo (my child), it will end the minute you decide.”
After telling this story, Boyle then quotes Robert Frost:
“How many things have to happen to you, before something occurs to you?”
And so I set down the book to ponder the things that have happened to me long before they occurred to me.
My twenties when my body received alcohol, cigarettes, fried food and very little exercise…..until it occurred to me I might need that body later on.
Into my forties before I visited the shrink to learn that I’d battled something called dysthymia (chronic, low grade depression) all of my life.
The first twelve years of serving the poor when I clung to dozens of ideas and programs long after they’d been proven ineffective.
The point Father Boyle made to Omar is the same we are all challenged with. In my case, it is “when will I decide to take care of myself or focus on what works in serving instead of sticking with what’s comfortable?”
And those decisions recur. Rarely do I look forward to a workout or telling a non-profit partner it’s time to move on. These things are hard but I have to push through because change awaits.
Father ends the chapter about Omar and other stories about such moments of truth with this final thought:
“Change awaits us. What is decisive is in our deciding.”
And so I shall think today about what other things in my life are awaiting change; those things about which I’ve been thinking, like Omar, “When will it end”?
And I’ll try to hear Father Boyle say to me: “Whenever you decide, mijo, whenever you decide."