In his 37 years helping gang members in Los Angeles reintegrate into society, Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle has expounded on two major aspects of his missionary efforts in his bestselling books: kinship and compassion.
Boyle is founder of Homeboy Industries, one of the world’s largest gang intervention and rehabilitation programs. The nonprofit grew from a single bakery into a network of job training businesses. Their motto is “We’re in the business of second chances.”
Boyle’s third and most recent book, The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness, will be published October 19.
“The essential principle around here is that we belong to each other, and every single person is unshakeably good,” said Boyle in a September 19 interview with America: The Jesuit Review of Faith and Culture, a Christian weekly based in New York City.
“So there is no need to sever belonging. There is no need to say: ‘You’re in and you’re out. One day you might be in, but you need to change your behavior.’ No, everybody belongs. So you try to create a community of kinship, such that God might recognize it. And you try to announce this message that nobody is outside the circle of compassion.”
Asked whether—and in what form—he comes up against resistance to his message of tenderness and kinship, Boyle said, “Resistance is mainly outside of this community probably. That’s the nature of demonizing, so people will demonize gang members, and that was so much more pronounced in our first 10 years than in our last 20.”
Boyle sees these as the most polarizing times he can recall. “I’ve never in my lifetime ever seen a more pronounced notion of us-and-them.”
But this only increases his commitment to break down walls.
“Homeboy wants to be the front porch of the house everybody wants to live in,” Boyle said. “We don’t want to just point stuff out—we’d also like to point the way. Here are black, brown, Asian enemies—people who used to shoot at each other—and now they’re making croissants together in the Homeboy bakery.”
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