Father Greg Boyle wants to stop the causes of gang violence, instead of waiting to clean up the results.
Father Greg Boyle buried his first gang member in 1988; on a Saturday last August, he buried his 156th. "I keep count," he says, speaking from the gang reintegration clinic he runs in Boyle Heights, a crime-plagued district just east of downtown Los Angeles. Dressed in a short-sleeved shirt bearing the logo of Homeboy Industries, the anti-gang organization he founded, the 53-year-old Boyle has the relaxed, affable persona of someone for whom life's harsh realities are tempered by understated compassion and virtuous zeal.Boyle, a Jesuit priest, was assigned to the Dolores Mission Parish in1986, and found himself caught up in a turf war among eight rival gangs who controlled the Pico Gardens and Aliso Village housing projects-the largest public-housing community west of the Mississippi and home to some 10,000 residents. "I would ride my bike and witness shootings," he says. He remembers1988 to 1998 as "the decade of death." After Rodney King's beating, in 1992, there were nearly 1,000 gang-related homicides in Los Angeles County alone. In the midst of this tragedy, Boyle found a mission. "Gangs are places kids go when they've encountered life as a misery," he says. "There often isn't a conflict-there's just no hope." In 1988 he founded the Dolores Mission Alternative School to get kids off the streets and into classrooms. This was quickly followed by Jobs for a Future, an employment service that currently places 300 people a year in construction, clerical, textile, health-care, and other jobs. In 1992, he founded Homeboy Industries, his multifaceted antigang organization, to offer hope as an alternative to gang life. "Nothing stops a bullet like a job," Boyle believes.
|Nothing stops a bullet like a job.|