National Homeboy Network gathers in Los Angeles

Last month, more than 50 programs representing 18 states and seven nations gathered in Los Angeles to learn, network, and plan how to help disaffected youth and young people leaving gangs. Homeboy Industries was the host and creator of the network. Homeboy Industries is the largest gang intervention non-profit in the United States. Homeboy has been a place where “hope has an address” for hundreds of former gang members in Los Angeles for the last 25 years. Homeboy is a sign of God’s grace active in the life of a community where the gospel is lived more so than spoken. There is a quote often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi which says, “Preach always. If necessary, use words.” In all the communities of faith that we have been privileged to visit or be a part of, Homeboy sits at the top of the list as one that embodies St. Francis’ quote robustly.

Fr. Greg Boyle

Father Boyle's remarks

Father Greg Boyle made an opening speech that contained amazing language as he spoke about the young people he works with. Here are some of the highlights:

"Stop trying to reach them. The real question is can you be reached by them. We don't try to convince them to change."

"We wait on them to decide to change. Ours is a God who waits, so who are we not to."

"What we are about as a movement is not to save people. It is to enter into this exquisite mutuality. We are reached as we reach people. And the soul feels its worth."

"Love is the answer. Community is the location. Tenderness is the methodology."

"Love is the only thing that works. It's the only thing worth doing. It's the only thing that fights the degenerating sense if nobody-ness.”

Programs to keep an eye on

There were many amazing programs represented at the gathering. Programs that were given special mention during the gathering were:

Empowered Youth from Miami, which reaches youth in the juvenile justice system and connects them to social enterprises, including a food truck.

Community Initiative to Reduce Violence in Glasgow, Scotland, which is a program run by the Scottish Police to engage youth in activities and job training programs in exchange for a reduction in violence.

Brotherhood Brew is a social enterprise run by young men in St. Paul, Minnesota that operates a coffee and beverage service for churches and offices.

The Cardinal Ballers, who are students from John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio who play basketball in the juvenile detention center three times a week and are thinking now they are called to start a formal program.

GRASP is a street outreach program in Denver, Colorado run by former gang members who are working to help others leave the gang life. We also met folks from London, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and the US Virgin Islands who are starting up efforts to work with gang affected youth in their communities.

Houston reVision from Houston, which intervenes in the lives of at risk and gang affected youth throughout Harris County who are between the ages of 12 and 17. By building community between positive adults and at risk youth, reVision provides direct alternatives to help youth change their lives, develop positive life skills, and prepare for promising futures.

Next steps

There was great excitement from the attendees of the gathering about what comes next. Because there were representatives from several countries, Father Boyle declared that the network will henceforth be called the Global Homeboy Network. Initial thoughts about how to organize this network are still forming, but there was some discussion about having a set of principles that organizations would sign on to, modeled on the United Nations' Business for Peace. The formation of a Global Homeboy Network advisory board was also discussed. Another conference will certainly take place next year.

What we learned

The two major takeaways that we had from the conference were:

1. A movement is emerging around the world to connect disaffected youth with their communities. Instead of continuing to incarcerate and dismiss these youth, people in cities and towns around the world are coming together to reach out to these youth and to give them hope.

2. Social enterprise does not have to be large scale. We met several programs that are running very small businesses that employ youth and create modest income streams into their organizations. The coffee program in Minnesota was probably the most notable. Most programs see social enterprise as an integral part of intervention work with disaffected youth, teaching them job skills and entrepreneurship.

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