It’s funny, so often when you think you’re out to “help someone”, you typically find yourself on the receiving end of true grace.
This happened to me on Saturday evening when I had the good fortune to attend the annual fundraiser for our diocesan television station, KNXT. Since I sit on the Board of Directors for the station, I was privy to many of the planning details for the event. The organizing team’s decision to honor two local community activists and to invite guest of honor Father Gregory Boyle to speak was a true stroke of genius.
If you’ve never heard of Father Gregory Boyle, you’re missing out on some major inspiration. Fr. Greg founded Homeboy Industries nearly 25 years ago out of his parish at Mission Dolores in the Boyle Heights area of East L.A. For the uninitiated, that’s a pretty rough part of town. Saturday after dinner, Fr. Greg humbly rose from his seat to share a bit of the story of this amazing non-profit organization that exists to transform the lives of young men and women. Here’s a description of their services from the Homeboy Industries website:
We help formerly gang involved and the recently incarcerated, by offering hope, training and job skills. Our goal: To help former gang members redirect their lives and become contributing members of their families and our community. Homeboy Industries is the largest gang intervention program in the nation and has become a model for other organizations and cities.
Fr. Greg began his remarks to the assembled KNXT benefactors with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” He went on to tell us how from humble origins, Homeboy Industries has gone on to serve over 15,000 young men and women per year, leading them to lives of productivity and hope in a world where for so many, the only thing to anticipate is all too often a jail cell or an early grave.
I know from reading about him on the Homeboy website that Fr. Greg keeps an active speaking schedule, traveling the country to spread the word about the mission of Homeboy Industries. But in his sharing of the individual lives of the young men and women with whom he works, I had the sense that his heart absolutely burns for each one of those kids in his care. This likely means great joy in the stories of transformation, but also a lot of pain when things don’t go according to the playbook. Knowing the nature of his homeboys and homegirls, for every story of success Fr. Greg witnesses there are surely many sad tales too. And yet, despite the insurmountable odds facing not only Fr. Greg but especially the men and women he serves, he persists. And Homeboy Industries flourishes.
As I sit listening to Fr. Greg, I thought about how many days each week I feel frustrated by the demands that fill my life. Stupid things, like too much email and not enough time to do all I would like to do for my husband and sons. How trivial it seems compared to the amazing work of a Jesuit who’s dedicated his very being to keeping kids alive and giving them hope for the future. And yet in Fr. Greg’s message, I found a balm for my own moments of frustration and despair. Fr. Greg reminded me that we’re each called in our own unique ways to be Christ for one another. In treating the homeboys and homegirls he serves with dignity and respect, he teaches them to shine that same light on others. And while I may not find myself in East L.A. anytime soon, I encounter folks each and every day who deserve that very same dignity and respect, that same sense of hope and potential.
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
What kind of change do you want to see? How are you setting out to be that change today?