Homeboy Industries: Taking the Streets By Storm
“A gang is the same as a wolf pack; gang members do not use their energies in friendship with one another, for they do not know what friendship is. If they are united, it is by the common bond of a desire to attack their world.”
– Haniel Long
[Note from the editor: Rose Ayers-Etherington] When people hear of gang activity they don’t usually think about the great Northwest, so it comes as a surprise that Seattle, WA is an active hot spot for gangs. I grew up in Olympia, WA., a suburb 60 miles south of Seattle. Being on the I-5 corridor and within close proximity of Seattle, Olympia saw its fair share of gang rivalry and recruitment, especially in the early 90’s. In fact, my family became all to familiar with how quickly and easily a gang can force and manipulate its influence over a young person. My sister was only 13 years old when a Seattle based 28 year old O.G. from the Bloodz saw her walking around in downtown Olympia. One look and he decided he wanted her to be one of his girls. So, he sent a posse after her. These girls came to school and harassed her. They called her and threatened to beat her up if she did not join the gang. They even parked their car at the end of our driveway and would just sit there well into the evening. My parents had to get the police involved and were eventually forced to take her out of school. It was an intense experience, one that opened all of our eyes to the tactics of fear and intimidation used by these gangs to enforce their ways.
Gangs are still active on the streets of most large American cities. People are being killed in cold blooded gang rivalry while the street drug-dealing scene is only on the uprise. You may be wondering by now what this story has to do with you, a Maverick 1000 member. As you already know, our first 3X Multiplier Retreat of the year is happening in Los Angeles, CA. (May 6-8, 2014). We have an incredible lineup of speakers and experiences for this trip; if you have not signed up we highly recommend that you do (click here to RSVP). This trip will be epic. While in LA, we’ll be paying a visit to Homeboy Industries: a non profit that serves high-risk, formerly gang-involved men and women with a continuum of free services and programs, and operates seven social enterprises that serve as job-training sites. Homeboy is reaching new frontiers in the gang rehabilitation arena, which I will tell you more about. But first, here’s some basic gang 101 for you.
The city of Los Angeles is the “gang capital” of the nation with more than 450 active gangs. Many of these gangs have been in existence for over 50 years and have a combined membership of over 45,000 individuals.
Over the past five years, gang membership in Los Angeles has continued to increase. One of the major factors contributing to increased gangs, gang membership and violence has been the lucrative narcotics trade, with rival gangs vying for the greatest market share.
Gangs are not a new phenomenon. During the last three years, there were over 16,398 verified violent gang crimes in the City of Los Angeles. These include 491 homicides, nearly 7,047 felony assaults, approximately 5,518 robberies and just under 98 rapes. Clearly, this is a way of life that is a central cause of trauma and devastation to communities, families and individuals. A natural thought that comes to everyone’s mind is ‘why?’ What drives a person to sever all natural family ties only to make blood oaths and bonds to a group of people who practice violence? According to a recent Advancement Project report, there are six major risk factors that contribute to gang involvement in urban environments:
- Lack of jobs for youth
- Poverty compounded by social isolation
- Domestic violence
- Negative peer networks
- Lack of parental supervision
- Early academic failure and lack of school attachment
These risk factors represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the reasons why people join gangs. For many, they are looking for a sense of family – a community that supports and protects them. Their home life offers nothing but a negative atmosphere that is absent of a father figure. With a single mom who is working most of the time and a strong inner need to establish an identity, kids will look outside of the home for their place in society. A single parent household can often times be a key ingredient in poverty. Gangs offer kids who are living in need a place where they are provided for – a sense of material security. More and more, gang members use their affiliation to make a profit through illegal activities, such as selling drugs and auto theft.
Then there is the issue of peer pressure and protection. In many neighborhoods, if you do not belong to a gang, you are in the direct line of fire for harassment and bullying. For most kids, the fear of being a target far outweighs their ability to resist peer pressure. They would rather have the protection of a gang than stand on their own and risk being hurt.
A growing trend in gangs acquiring new recruits is the “appearance of cool.” Gangs have mastered the art of manipulation to attract potential recruits. They wear the latest fashion trends, throw the hottest parties, and drive the coolest cars. They can appear to have the ‘perfect’ lifestyle to a young kid who’s looking to fit in somewhere. They offer an image of “cool” that has been glorified by the media and entertainment industry. More and more, this factor is becoming the greatest threat to all communities; not just impoverished and intercity, but upperclass and suburban households as well.
Now enters Homeboy Industries. This rapidly growing and very successful program is the result of a vision from Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit Priest and the Founder and Executive Director of Homeboy Industries. Father Greg’s lifelong mission is to work with former gang members to help transform their lives, create positive communities and “find the person they are really meant to be.” Homeboy Industries offers unique services to people wanting to leave the gangster life such as tattoo removal, legal services, mental health and substance abuse services and a Solar Panel Installation training and certification program. Homeboy Industries is acutely aware that rehabilitation is only one side of the coin for gang members. The other is job placement and for most it is a challenge due to their high rate of felonies. This dilemma inspired Homeboy to implement six social enterprises, where young men and women are placed in what is often their first “real job,” learning to work side by side with their former enemies and gaining fundamental job skills in a supportive environment. Below are some examples of these enterprises:
The Homegirl café assists high-risk and formerly gang-involved young women, and a few young men to become contributing members of our community through training in restaurant service and culinary arts. Homegirl Café has an 18-month training certificate program that empowers women to support themselves and their families while receiving needed services as they work toward a better life.
In 1992, after the Los Angeles riots, Homeboy Bakery opened in Boyle Heights. The first of Homeboy’s social enterprises, the Bakery started as a training ground for aspiring bakers. Supplying fresh breads, pastries, and specialty goods to the walk-up counter at Homegirl Cafe, Homeboy Farmer’s Markets and restaurants throughout Los Angeles, the Bakery is a place where former enemies bake bread side by side, learning the art and science of preparing breads, pastries, cakes and much more.
The Homeboy Diner at Los Angeles City Hall is located on the 2nd floor. Look for the bright orange tables and chairs in the rotunda area where you can enjoy a snack, light lunch or restful break.
The Diner staff present a daily selection of sandwiches, salads, cookies and other desserts, coffee, tea and other drinks direct from Homegirl Cafe and Homeboy Bakery.
The Homeboy web site hosts their own eCommerce shopping site. You can purchase Homeboy tee shirts for men, women and children, Homeboy baked goods, Homeboy books and media and Homeboy office supplies.
Homeboy Grocery offers food items (such as Homeboy Tortilla Strips and Salsa) made from scratch by the head chef at the Homegirl Cafe in downtown Los Angeles. Each product has a distinct Latin flavor guaranteed to delight your taste buds while bringing critical funding to Homeboy Industries. All Homeboy Food products contribute 100% of the profits back to Homeboy Industries. These products are available in most Southern California area Ralphs, Food 4 Less and other fine stores in the deli section.
Homeboy Silkscreen and Embroidery has a reputation for consistent, high-quality production of screen-printing and embroidery with outstanding customer service and turnaround times. When you customize your merchandise or promotional items with Homeboy Silkscreen and Embroidery, you support their mission and help ensure that their programs and services remain free.
On May 7, 2014 Maverick 1000 will be taking a field trip to Homeboy Industries, where we will get a tour of their program and Social Enterprises. Our desire is that we can learn more about their infrastructure and hopefully walk away after leaving a positive Maverick IMPACT on them.
Do you have any thought or questions about this event? Please contact Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.