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Father “Boyles” Down Lessons of Kinship and Compassion

“Tattooes on the Heart” author visits campus to speak on his experiences at Homeboy Industries

Father+Boyle+signing+at+the+Q%26A+session+and+photo+op
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Father “Boyles” Down Lessons of Kinship and Compassion

Father Boyle signing at the Q&A session and photo op

Father Boyle signing at the Q&A session and photo op

Cara Gonzalez

Father Boyle signing at the Q&A session and photo op

Cara Gonzalez

Cara Gonzalez

Father Boyle signing at the Q&A session and photo op

Anthony Karambelas, Staff Reporter

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If you thought that a speaker couldn’t incite gut-busting laughter and heart-wrenching emotion all in the span of an hour, then guess again. Last Thursday, Father Gregory Boyle, Founder of Homeboy Industries, delivered a remarkably eloquent speech in the Golden Eagle Ballroom, which reduced the packed room of students and faculty to a puddle of happy and sad tears.

This year, Cal State LA selected Father Boyle’s award-winning book, Tattoos on the Heart, for the One Campus, One Book event. The program is designed to encourage the student population of Cal State LA to collectively read one book over the course of the school year. Having been selected, Father Boyle was invited to speak to students and faculty, followed by a Q&A session and several photo ops.

Father Boyle began his work in 1988, setting up a program in his parish called Jobs for a Future. His church was located in one of the largest concentrated areas for gang activity in the U.S., with eight gangs at war.

His first endeavor was to build a school for the younger gang members, so that they could learn instead of wreaking havoc in the projects. Since Father Boyle couldn’t find any schools that would take gang members, he built his own, turning his convent into a school for gang members.

He, along with the nuns in his convent, went marching for jobs in the surrounding neighborhoods. They developed different crews for landscaping, graffiti removal, etc.

During the unrest of 1992, everywhere else in LA exploded with violence except for the pocket in which Homeboy Industries was located. When LA Times asked Father Boyle to explain this anomaly, he told them it could have been due to the fact that they had 60 strategically picked rival gang members working with and alongside one another.

The late film producer Ray Stark read the article and asked Father Boyle how he could lend his assistance. Boyle suggested that he buy an abandoned bakery across the street from the church. His idea was that gang members could bake bread for money.

Homeboy Industries was born out of ventures like this. They now have 18-month training program for gang members to rehabilitate themselves and learn how to become working citizens. In addition, Homeboy offers therapy and free tattoo removal services.

At Father Boyle’s presentation, President Covino introduced him and his remarkable work, explaining why his literary piece was chosen for the One Book, One Campus program.

“The themes of ‘Tattooes on the Heart’, compassion, kinship, and nurturing potential–resonate on our campus through our initiatives, through our mission and vision and values, and in our community, and we hope, in our nation,” said Covino.

Covino added that the book teaches us valuable lessons about community, pushing us to be a place where no life is less valuable than another, and where we “see and value and nurture potential no matter what.”

Father Boyle seemed to know exactly how to engage the crowd. With hilarious anecdotes, he added a warm and friendly touch to his speech.

Father Boyle began with a story. “I was thinking about a guy named Joey who used to work for us, and did a variety of things, but he also was a good speaker so we would send him out to high schools. He was on demand and people liked him. So we went out to dinner and he was giving me tips on how to speak publicly. And he said, ‘You gotta pepper your talk with self-deprecating humour.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, no shit. Some good advice there.’”

Drawing on the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr., Father Boyle encouraged Cal State LA students to imagine something different, a world that looks differently. As students, we have an obligation to use our education to make our voices heard through kinship and compassion.

“Everyone in this room has felt the exquisite privilege of being able to stand with the easily despised and the readily left out, with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. And with the disposable, so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away,” said Boyle.

“This is not the place you come to, it’s always been the place you will go from. And you go from here to create a community of kinship such that God, in fact, might recognize it. A place of connection, how do we move and create a movement from being separate and superior to being connected and compassionate. And you stand at the margin and you brace yourself because, trust me people will accuse you of wasting your time,” Boyle added.

Boyle mentioned that, more recently, his homies have taught him how to text.

“I know I can’t be alone in being vexed by this stupid autocorrect thing. Just the other day I had a homie who I didn’t know and he was explaining his story. And kinda formal, he tried to begin his message to me with ‘Father Greg, I am so and so.’ At least he was trying to write ‘Father Greg’ when autocorrect helped him and it said ‘Fat Boy Greg,’” said Father Boyle.

Offering another anecdote, Father Boyle said, “So this one homie wrote me with his hair on fire and I didn’t have any funds. So all I wrote back was: ‘things are tight’. And autocorrect told him, ‘thongs are tight’. And he wrote back, ‘Sorry to hear that.’”

Father Boyle also told the story of Manuel and Snoopy, two Homeboys who ran the clocking room at Homeboy Industries. Manuel once received an incoming from Snoopy saying, “Hey dog, it’s me Snoops. Yeah they got my ass locked up in county jail. They’re charging me with being the ugliest vato in America. You have to come down right now, show ‘em they got the wrong guy.”

“We died laughing so hard, and then I realized Manuel and Snoopy are enemies, they’re from rival gangs. They used to shoot bullets at each other. And now they shoot text messages,” said Boyle.

This is only one manifestation of the power of Father Boyle’s work. He also recounted a time when he brought one of his trainees by the name of Jose to a talk in Virginia. He was a trainee, finishing up his 18-month training. Before working for Homeboy Industries, he had been a homeless man and heroin addict.

Father Boyle, curious to hear his story, invited him to share his childhood experiences for the audience. Jose recanted times when his mom had told him to kill himself or dumped him at an orphanage for 90 days until his grandmother rescued him.

“My mom beat me every single day of my elementary school years with things you couldn’t imagine and a lot of things you couldn’t. Every day my back was bloodied and scarred. In fact, I had to wear three t-shirts to school every day. First t-shirt, because the blood would seep through. Second t-shirt you could still see it. By the third, you couldn’t see any blood,” said Jose.

Kids would make fun of him for wearing three t-shirts in the hot sun. Soon he stopped talking. He wore three t-shirts into his adult years because he didn’t want anyone seeing his wounds.

Jose said, “But now I welcome my wounds. I run my fingers over my scars. My wounds are my friends. After all, how can I help heal the wounded, if I don’t welcome my own wounds?”

After hearing this story, Father Boyle affirmed that he would not have survived one day of his homies’ childhood.

“The measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins, but only in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them. You stand at the margins because that’s the only way they get erased. And pretty soon, you cease to care whether anyone accuses you of wasting your time,” said Father Boyle.

During the Q&A session, a student expressed her concerns over the divide between students and faculty at Cal State LA. The student felt that the administration was not properly addressing the students concerns over immigration.

In response, Father Boyle said, “Where is there not a gap? Welcome to the human race.”

“Demonizing is always wrong,” he continued. “We’re tempted to do it. I mean I am. But it’s always false. Whoever those demons are: administrators, Donald Trump, those who voted for him. As long as you know that it’s always untrue, that there are no demons. There are no exceptions to that truth.”

Many students found the talk wholly enjoyable. “Honestly, I love Father G because how he makes you feel loved and cared for.  His jokes, dear lord are hilarious. The reason why is because they are relatable. His speech delivery was on point, because it was emotionally driven,” said senior Daisy Villalobos.

Hopefully, Cal State LA will continue bringing wonderful authors and agents of change like Father Boyle to inspire our student population.

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