Nine years ago, The Times surveyed some of Los Angeles’ most thoughtful, civic-minded leaders for their ideas on what ailed this city. Most responded with insights into the power structure -- the authority of the mayor, frustrations with the City Council and the Board of Supervisors and the like. Father Gregory Boyle saw it differently. “If government’s heart could be broken by the things that break the heart of God,” he said, “then government would be better.”
Boyle knows what he’s talking about when he contemplates the landscape of heartbreak. In his ministry to L.A.'s gang members, he has buried 156 of his flock. He struggled through what he refers to as the “decade of death” -- the years from 1988 to 1998, when gang violence took a devastating toll in Los Angeles and beyond. And he has been forced to move Homeboy Industries, which he founded to help those amid that violence, four times, most recently because its Boyle Heights headquarters was destroyed by a fire.
On Tuesday, however, Boyle presided over a triumph of that same mission as he formally opened Homeboy’s new bakery, cafe, office building and rehabilitation center, in a swank facility a few blocks from Union Station. As the ribbon-cutting neared, young men and women scurried through the building, pushing mops and polishing glass to the tune of a mariachi band playing outside. Workers handed out gift certificates and programs and showed off their new ovens, tattoos peeking out from beneath their uniforms. The mood was festive -- the air wafting with a blend of cleaning solution and freshly baked bread -- but with hints of tragedy. Too many of those in attendance navigated in wheelchairs.
Homeboy is mostly about work -- it thrives on the idea that “nothing stops a bullet like a job” -- but Boyle’s creation also rehabilitates its clients with tattoo removal, counseling and classes. Tuesday’s class schedule, posted upstairs in the new building, tells that story: Financial Literacy, Decisions for Healthy Living, Computer Basics, Anger Management, Alcoholics Anonymous and College Corner.
That is a ministry of hope, one that Boyle has preached and practiced for 20 years. With his devotion and patience, he has helped to teach Los Angeles what breaks the heart of God, and helped to heal the city as well. May Homeboy’s new life be a long one.