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A New Dose of Hope on Alameda Street – UPDATED

October 3rd, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

homeboy-opening-1.jpg

Yesterday at noon, the new Homeboy Industries building
officially opened its doors. Hundreds of people showed up to celebrate the new bakery, cafe, office building, jobs and rehabilitation center located in Chinatown on Alameda, two blocks from Union Station. Antonio Villaraigosa and Bill Bratton were there, as was Sheriff Lee Baca, LAPD Central division Chief, Sergio Diaz, the mayor’s head gang guy, Jeff Carr, a judge or two and a lot, lot more. (Mandalit del Barco has a good story about the opening on NPR this morning, as does Rick Coca of the LA Daily News) and a nice photo slideshow by LA DN photog, John McCoy.)

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Prominent among the crowd were the scores of homegirls and homeboys, past and present, who gazed at the building with obvious personal pride. In fact, so many people came to check the place out that fire marshals began regulating the number of people allowed inside. At one point even two of Father Greg’s sisters were among the crowds waiting in line to get in the building.


One of the speakers (I forget who out of the list above)
and said of the bright, mustard colored facility, “This is hope’s new address.” And for the day, anyway, nearly everyone there believed the characterization to be true.

“Now what we need to do,”said the Mayor’s designated gang violence reduction specialist, Jeff Carr,
in a conversation outside on the sidewalk, “we need to make sure that hope has an address a lot of other places in the City of Los Angeles,” With that he reeled off a string of hot spot addresses all over town that could assuredly use more hope.

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Thinking in that same vein, this morning’s LA Times printed a lovely unsigned editorial (written by the Times Editorial page chief, Jim Newton). Here’s a snippet”

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.

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In the end, the people most blown away by the opening, and the classy new building, were the guys and young women who work here. The homeboy pictured below is Anthony Henderson, a 38-year-old who said he recently got out of prison. “Nobody else would give me a job,” he told me. “Then I heard about Homeboy from a friend.” Now he’s working on the Homeboy Maintenance crew. “We have contracts to clean law firms, some homes, and other businesses. It’s great. I’m really happy here. They gave me a chance.”

(To see Anthony and more of the homeboys and homegirls click below.

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Nearly every conversation with Homeboy workers yields another story that demonstrates how great the need is for many more such places like this one—i.e. gang intervention programs that offer jobs, training, safety, acceptance and a sense of community. The programs aren’t cheap but, as the mayor’s gang guy, Jeff Car remarked to me in passing, they’re a whole heck of a lot cheaper than the cost of arrest, adjudication, and incarceration.

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Marcos Luna, 35, got out of prison
on June 21, 2007, and came straight to Homeboy. “I can relate to everybody here,” he said. “There ain’t no b.s. It’s a really good place.” Janely Masvidal, 27, standing with him is working at the Homegirl Restaurant, which starts serving meals at the end of the month. She nodded at his words. “It’s like our home.”

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Yet, as beautiful as the new building is, the move was not made without some anxiety. For instance, Joseph Holquin is a former drug addict/former homeboy who has served time in prison. Now he’s a well-liked Homeboy senior staffer who often does public speaking for the organization. (I took the picture below of Joseph when he was reading some of his new poetry to me. Joseph is also a poet.) Before the move to the new building took place, Joseph told Father Greg that he was worried that the strong “spirit” of the old place wouldn’t follow. Yesterday, I asked him what he meant. “There was always a good feeling, a spiritual feeling about the place. It was a place that I know I’m safe. Where I’d be around enemy gang members that I never would have been around any other time. But now I’ve bonded with those people.”

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Okay, what about the new place? I asked him.

“Yeah, it’s here.” Joseph said. “After we moved in I realized, Yeah, of course the spirit is here. It’s the people who bring it.” Joseph paused “See, it’s like a garden. It’s not the garden that’s important, right? It’s the flowers in the garden that make it a garden.”
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Posted in Gangs, Life in general, Los Angeles history | 20 Comments »

20 Responses

  1. listener_on_the_sidelines Says:

    Wow. Another storyboard extravaganza. Celeste, I’m guessing this was an exciting (self affirming) day for you, too. Congratulations to all. Just getting to ‘here’ is an amazing accomplishment. Wishing everyone involved a marvelous, long-long run of success.

    [does this link (To see Anthony and more of the homeboys and homegirls, click here ) tke folks where you want them to go?]

  2. Pokey Says:

    Don’t forget your x-mas mug.
    http://www.homeboy-industries.org/product_info.php?products_id=63

  3. Woody Says:

    Well, judging from the patrons, it won’t take long for them to ruin the place. I don’t mean that, but I didn’t want to disappoint some of you by not saying something disagreeable.

    This is very nice and I wish them the best. A good way to continue helping gang members is to make a profit so that you can continue to grown and hire more of them. Tell the good Father to keep looking down at the bottom line while he looks up for help and out for people to help.

  4. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Thanks, Listener. I fixed the link so it’s not so confusing. And, yes, it was certainly a lot of fun for me since I have so much affection for so many who are involved. Back to harder core stories tomorrow.

  5. Woody Says:

    I just listened to the interview. If someone wants to hear it, and who wouldn’t, go to the link that Celeste provided and click on the show that is headed up with the Blackwater story. After a brief recap of topics, the host begins the show with a conversation with Celeste.

    Celeste, the genuine enthusiasm that you display in your writings about this work program (some of us might call it a ministry) comes across in your voice, also. It was a pleasant interview that covered pretty much all of the bases, including directions and everything but a traffic report.

    “You can find our store by heading down Hwy. 101 until you get to the Slauson Cutoff. Get out of the car, cut off your slauson, get back in the car. Drive until you get to the fork in the road!”

  6. richard locicero Says:

    Saw the laudatory editorial in toady’s LAT. How many businesses can say that?

  7. Woody Says:

    Who is toady?

  8. L.A. Resident Says:

    I wish I would have seen more of Gregory Boyle and a lot less of Mayor Villaraigosa on the evening news coverage about the grand opening. Celeste, who is being groomed to take the reins when Boyle is too old to continue his work?

    A link to an only in L.A. story, if Poplock is reading, hold on to your hat. “Handed their hats, Lynwood council members take a seat. The ousted officials were expected to step down this week, but they didn’t.”

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-lynwood4oct04,1,6022501.story?coll=la-headlines-california

  9. richard locicero Says:

    Fruedian Slip? No bad typing!

  10. Rebel Girl Says:

    Great piece!

  11. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Thanks, RG.

    LA Resident, in answer to your question, I think on one hand, people are always being groomed. But the real answer is: Nobody.

    This is, in fact, a very big deal—less because of aging (Greg’s in his mid-50′s), mostly because, as you may or may not know, Fr. Greg has chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He was diagnosed in the Spring of 2003.

  12. Coach Says:

    I attended the opening day ceremony and it was awesome. I found it noteworthy that the top law enforcement brass was on hand giving the impression that the LA Police Chief and LA Sheriff ‘gets it’ that addressing the gang issue is a community issue, and not one solely on the shoulders of law enforcement. Chief Willam Bratton said it best when he stated, “We cannot arrest our way out of this problem.”

    People of varied backgrounds were in attendance from many financial, political and religious groups. This shows that people are moving with Father Greg Boyle that we seek kinship where the circle of compassion is widening until such time that no one is standing outside. We are all in this life together and it is our duty to help each other get through this life.

    Anytime we judge or insult each other, as is sadly done by political or social groups, it is always exactly the opposite of God’s plan. The sooner we get past this weakness the sooner we will be happy as a community and as a planet.

    Thank you, Celeste, for your support of Homeboy Industies over the years!

  13. Coach Says:

    I just received an email from Father Greg Boyle. Unbeknownst to me I left my digital camera in the office during Grand Opening on Tuesday. One of the homies recovered it and turned it in to the Supervising Job Developer. This is first hand evidence that these young men and women are in fact moving their lives towards honesty. What are the chances that would have happened in any building full of people on parole or probation?

    Homeboy rocks!

  14. poplock Says:

    About 90% of them will be respectful and honenst – its a culture church thing. The other 10% will use father-G’s car without his knowledge and go drop off dope to his EME buddies.

  15. poplock Says:

    I’m not trying to be an sarcastic Ms. Fremon…just needed to address that. I love Father-G. He’s one of the few organization I support – even with the few mistakes.

  16. Celeste Fremon Says:

    No sarcasm taken, Poplock. My only correction would be that they don’t take Father Greg’s car, and they don’t drop off to their EME buddies. But, the basic principle holds. There’s always the percentage who hold Fr. Greg in high regard—and burn him and the office anyway.

    With rare exceptions, in my experience it’s not usually older guys though. (The guys in their 30s.)

  17. poplock Says:

    opps, sorry for making a general statement. It happened once…..

  18. bby star Says:

    damn the book about father greg was really cool and i really go into it. good job

  19. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Thanks, bby star, for the kind words. I appreciate it. Father Greg’s the best.

  20. bbystar Says:

    WELL YOU’RE WELCOME! I’M JUST BEING REAL WITH YOU AND IT’S THE ONLY BOOK I’VE READ AND ACTUALLY UNDERSTOOD.I WAS RAISED IN EST L.A. PRETTY MUCH MY WHOLE LIFE AND I CAN COMPARE MY LIFE TO YOUR BOOK.I’M ALSO FAMILIAR WITH THE DIFFERENT NEIGHBORHOODS IN THE BOOK.=D

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