July 9, 2014 — Jesuit Father Greg Boyle has been recognized by the White House as a "Champion of Change" for his Los Angeles-based gang intervention program, Homeboy Industries. On June 30, Fr. Boyle accepted an award in Washington, D.C., for his work with Homeboy, now in its 25th year.
Along with Fr. Boyle, 14 others were honored for their efforts to “help those with criminal records reenter society with dignity and viable employment opportunities,” according to a White House press release.
The event, titled “Reentry and Employment Champions of Change,” featured Attorney General Eric Holder and Piper Kerman, author of the best-selling memoir “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” and inspiration for the television series of the same name. Each week, the “Champions of Change” program brings individuals “doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities” in a given field to the White House to highlight their work.
“Sound reentry policy is much more than an economic and budgetary necessity. It’s also a moral imperative,” said Holder, before introducing the honorees at the White House.
Fr. Boyle is founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and reentry program in the United States. He first encountered the gang violence issue in East Los Angeles when he served as pastor of Dolores Mission Church from 1986 to 1992. Homeboy Industries now employs and trains more than 300 former gang members every year in seven enterprises, including a restaurant, a bakery and a silkscreen and embroidery business. Additionally, the organization provides resources and rehabilitation services, such as tattoo removal and counseling, to 12,000 people every year.
“No kid is seeking something when he joins a gang,” said Fr. Boyle. “He’s always fleeing something.” The only thing to do in response is to “address despair, address trauma and deliver mental health services,” he advised.
Rounding out his Washington D.C. trip, Fr. Boyle gave a talk titled “Lessons from the Field: Protecting Youth and Stopping the Cycle of Incarceration” on Capitol Hill. The standing-room only event was coordinated by the National Advocacy Office of the Jesuit Conference and the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition. Fr. Boyle recounted anecdotes of former gang members he’d taken under his wing and described what has and hasn’t worked while running the nonprofit.
“Homeboy Industries provides a wraparound community,” he said, explaining the organization’s impact on the gang members, including many youths, who arrive at Homeboy’s doorstep. “I think that’s why Homeboy works. It’s a wraparound community and people are going to hold you.”