Gang Members and Reformation: Just Thought I’d Share About This Author

by | Apr 12, 2023

Father Gregory Boyle in His Office (credit: Father Gregory Boyle Facebook Page)

If you’ve never read anything by Gregory Boyle, you should consider doing so. It may change your life. Or at the very least, make you change your job.

That’s what happened to me.

It’s probably true that many of us find ourselves in jobs that we likely did not anticipate. I don’t know many people, for example, who dreamed of being an Assistant Manager of Talent Acquisition or a Systems Analyst at 7 years old.

I know I did not anticipate raising money and awareness for a non-profit organization in Grand Rapids, Michigan (I was going to be a baseball player in Pittsburgh, if you must know). Super-Fast forward to February of 2021, a pandemic had been making its way through our world for a year and I had spent my time reading and re-reading books by Gregory Boyle.

If you don’t know who Gregory Boyle is, Father Boyle is a Jesuit Priest in East Los Angeles who started Homeboy Industries – a place that wraps its arms around gang members and the incarcerated, and helps them find their paths forward through work programs, education, mental health clinics, tattoo removal, and radical kinship and compassion.

In an attempt to write few enough words that compels you to read this, I simply encourage you to read one of (or all three) or Gregory Boyle’s books: Tattoos on the Heart, Barking to the Choir, or The Whole Language. I think there is a good chance that you’ll read of a posture that this world needs and I believe, actually deeply longs for.

Boyle (Center) in the early days of Homeboy Industries (credit Ave Maria Press)

“We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”

AYA attempts to be a similar place that Father Boyle and so many have created in Los Angeles. We are looking to be a place of connection and kinship, rather than a place of perfectly curated paths. We long to see the wholeness and beauty in each person over and over again, as opposed to disregarding them if they disagree with or disappoint us. We seek to understand what “bad behavior” actually is – a response from deeply wounded people that have often been victims of simply being born in a wrong home or wrong zip code.

For many of you who are reading this, you know that at AYA’s center is the power of relationships. We believe it has to be core to true transformation. Homeboy Industries would call this kinship. And it’s central to everything they do. Father Boyle puts it like this for Homeboy Industries:

“Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”

To find out more how AYA has been creating spaces for the voiceless, despised, and demonized for nearly 10 years now, send me an email at aallen@ayayouth.org. I’d love to talk more with you.