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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”