Post by Kyle Baker, Program Coordinator at the Institute for Excellence & Ethics.
What a difference a week makes.
Last Wednesday at 4:00 AM, I was on my way to the Kansas City airport, preparing for a day walking through airports and onto planes.
This morning at 4:00 AM, I was cooking breakfast for 50+ homeless men and preparing to walk the infamous Skid Row section of Los Angeles this afternoon.
Last week I was wrapping up my most recent trip to Kansas, where I met with educators on a variety of topics and facilitated three Excellence & Ethics Impact Academies, retreat-style workshops designed to guide participants into reflection on how they can develop into Impact Leaders and equip them with tools and skills needed to do so. (You can view our workshop materials from these Impact Academies by clicking here.)
This week, I’ve seen countless Impact Leaders in action. Along with eleven other Carroll College students and alumni, I am in Los Angeles this on a Headlights Service Immersion trip (read more about this trip here). The objectives of this trip are to join together in order to serve people and communities in need and to learn of their stories and about the challenges they face.
Earlier this week we were able to visit Homeboy Industries, a comprehensive gang intervention program that has transformed entire neighborhoods if not the entire city of Los Angeles (it certainly has transformed the way we think about the creation of opportunities for gang members). Homeboy Industries abides by two slogans that are referenced consistently:
“Jobs not jails,” and “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”
It might be easy to cast off such brash statements…until you see Homeboy Industries in action. On Monday, we visited a silk-screen shop, a bakery, and a café (complete with some of the best organic, sustainably grown food and coffee I’ve had in a very long time) that are run by Homeboy Industries. Fast Company CoExist recently profiled Homeboy Industries, so you can read more about them by clicking here, but here are the essentials:
In the 1980’s, a Jesuit priest named Fr. Greg Boyle was placed at the Dolores Mission parish in the Boyle Heights region in Los Angeles. Sharing a name with the neighborhood was pure coincidence, but his placement there was not. After working in Bolivia, Fr. Greg asked his provincial (supervisor) if he could be placed at the poorest parish they had. Since this was quite a rare request, the provincial was more than happy to place him in Boyle Heights, a region of LA that in the late 1980’s was entrenched in a full blown gang war. By accounts we’ve heard this week, there were up to 18 actively warring gangs in the area at that time and there were often 2-3 homicides per week, most of them gang related.
Upon arriving in the neighborhood, Fr. Greg set out to learn about the challenges that the neighborhood was facing and work together with community members, primarily women in the neighborhood, to develop and implement creative solutions. Homeboy Industries is only one of the many profound examples of how the creative solutions that have been developed have had a significant positive impact on this neighborhood, but for now I will focus on Homeboy in order to illustrate how they’ve moved to address critical issues facing current and former gang members.
Fr. Greg and his team quickly saw that one of the root causes of long-term gang membership was lack of any other valid option for many people in the area, especially if they dropped out of school and/or got involved in gang activity from a young age. Take a look at the table below to see some of these challenges they identified and how Homeboy Industries works to provide solutions:
|Gangs warring over territory.||Homeboy intentionally hires people from different gangs and puts them in situations where they must work together in order to keep their job.|
|Gang-affiliated tattoos can be a barrier to employment and/or a risk to life.||Homeboy Industries provides free tattoo removal services to anyone that walks in the door(In 20 days this February, 840 people took advantage of this service).|
|Low employability skills.||Homeboy provides a wealth of 100% free, no-obligation courses ranging from Excel 101 to resume building to yoga which are open to anyone at any time.|
|Mental health and substance abuse issues (often undiagnosed/untreated).||100% free, no-obligation counseling services available.|
|Legal issues.||100% free, no-obligation legal services are available for area ranging from immigration status to parking tickets to custody issues.|
|Lack of food/proper nutrition.||The cafeteria in the Homeboy Industries office has an open door policy; anyone can walk in and have something to eat or drink at any time during office hours, including you or me as well as someone who does not have the means to get the proper food/nutrition they need in order to pursue a job and/or work productively.|
|Lack of employers willing to give entry-level jobs to the people who come to Homeboy Industries looking for them (usually people who are associated with gangs, have dealt drugs, been incarcerated, etc.).||Homeboy created several business which employ “Homies,” including a silk-screen shop, bakery, a café, and the Homeboy Industries office itself.|
|Long-term dependence on social-services.||Participation in Homeboy is an 18 month rehabilitation process, which includes mental health services, career counseling, classes, performance reviews, etc. After 16 months, participants meet with a team of case managers, job developers, etc. to build and implement a self-sufficiency plan.|
As we toured Homeboy Industries, our tour guide Gabriel explained that these solutions were a process, and that they take time.
He told us that several years ago “G” (which is what Fr. Greg is commonly referred to as here) had given him a chance, and that he’d left his old way of life behind and seized the opportunity. He worked for Homeboy Industries for a period of time, then gota job with the railroad making over $45,000 per year (to put that into perspective, according to the principal of Dolores Mission Catholic School, only about 5% of the households in this area bring in over $20,000 per year). However, he had a “relapse” (what this consisted of he did not share with us, he only referenced “his addictions”) and lost his job, his family, and his home. He described coming back to see G:
“G gave me a hug, he told me I had no reason to be ashamed, and that I was exactly who God created me to be. Then he told me to work on myself for a little bit, and come back when I was ready. So I came to see him in December, and in January he gave me another opportunity with this job. Now my personal goals are to keep working on myself so I can get enrolled in school and become a counselor to help other people.”
When we met Fr. Greg on Monday afternoon, he was quick to tell us that they hadn’t “fixed” anything, a message that is shared by many in this area. However everyone here is just as quick to point out the reductions in murder and other violent crime, thousands of “Homies” who now have jobs, men (including Gabriel) and women who are taking classes not only in Word, but also parenting and relationship-building. They are proud and should be of the work they have joined together to put in for their community.
Indeed, as another Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once wrote, we must trust in the “long slow work,” and not get frustrated if “success” by our desired definition and metrics is not initially achieved. Instead, we must (1) remain focused on the goal we’ve set out to achieve (In the case of Homeboy, end the violence that has plagued the lives of the people in this neighborhood), (2) develop many ideas for diverse and wide-reaching solutions, (3) refine these ideas until they are shaped into implementation-worthy plans, and then (4) communicate the plan to everyone involved and put it into action with fierce determination as well as the unbridled humility required to reflect, regroup, and begin anew when a plan needs further development.
Although Fr. Greg and others working in this area (and in other places) may feel as if they’ve only just begun to work toward a solution, spending this week surrounded by true Impact Leaders has been a great reminder that creative solutions are as much about process as about product, and that even if we haven’t achieved our final goal, there are always opportunities to plan and problems-solve further.
By my assessment using Creative Solutions Rubric, I’d give Homeboy Industries three thumbs up.
The Excellence & Ethics Tools mentioned in this post, the Creative Solutions System and the Creative Solutions Rubric, are available in:
For more information, email Kyle Baker at email@example.com