Priest reaches out, proclaims ‘Jobs Not Bullets’

Father Greg Boyle

Despite the heavy rain on March 16, a large, enthusiastic crowd turned out at Gilroy’s St. Mary Roman Catholic Church. They were there to hear a remarkable man share a story of great relevance to the gang violence so common in South County.
The Rev. Gregory Boyle (better known to those with whom he works as “Father Greg” or “G-Dog”) is a Jesuit priest with multiple university degrees in English and theology. After teaching at Loyola High School in Los Angeles and serving with Christian Base Communities in Bolivia, he received an appointment destined to change his life and the lives of thousands of desperate residents of Los Angeles’ ghettoes.
In 1986, he became pastor of Dolores Mission, the poorest parish in the Archdiocese, which is located in Boyle Heights, the largest grouping of public housing units west of the Mississippi. In 1988, after the burial of a parishioner killed in gang violence, he dedicated his life to helping gang members escape the violent life in which they were caught.
“No hopeful kid ever joins a gang,” Boyle said. “They are always fleeing something: suffering, neglect, shame, disgrace – and misery loves company.”  
He realized that hope could come from having a job, but most employers are reluctant to hire someone with gang tattoos or a prison record. In 1988 he founded Jobs for a Future, a program that included an elementary school, day care program and employment service.
Soon, a warehouse across the street from the church was turned into a bakery (Homeboy Bakery), a business that would hire the most challenging and difficult young people to work productively in a safe environment. Employees were required to work side-by-side with members of rival gangs. They learned skills and attitudes that prepared them for future jobs.
In 2001, the program became an independent, non-profit organization, Homeboy Industries. Today its other enterprises include Homeboy Silkscreen, Homeboy Merchandise, Homegirl Café, Homeboy Diner and Homeboy Farmers market. The businesses employ some 15,000 people each year and generate $3 million in revenue.
Still, $7 million in donations are needed to provide other services, which include anger management and parenting classes, substance abuse treatment and tattoo removal (800 per month).
Homeboy Industries is the country’s largest gang rehabilitation and reentry program. Father Greg has received much recognition for his work: appearing on the “Dr. Phil” show,” speaking at commencement addresses at universities, speaking at a White House conference on youth at the personal invitation of Mrs. George Bush, receiving awards from organizations like the L.A. Chamber of Commerce and the L.A. YMCA and receiving an honorary degree from Claremont University.
Answering question from the Gilroy audience, he said:
– Ninety-five percent of gang members want to leave that life, with the remaining 5 percent being damaged, mentally ill.
– It is rare to be “jumped out” (suffer a beating) for leaving the gang.
– No one in his organization has been threatened for anti-gang efforts.
Father Boyle closed the evening by saying that his work is the vocation of all Christians.
“To reach out to those needing healing, to be in the world who God is,” he said. He then quoted Mother Teresa, “We are called to be faithful, not successful.”
Several members of the audience brought copies of “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion,” the inspirational story of Greg Boyle’s life working with gang members in Los Angeles, to be autographed. It is available from

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