Tony Rossi, Director of Communications                                        

August 7, 2022

The Power of Kinship
 

            In the late 1980s, when gang killings in Los Angeles were growing out of control,

Father Greg Boyle was pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights, the poorest

parish in the city. He was burying kids murdered in gang violence on a regular basis, so

he and others in the community aimed to figure out a way to “respond to the death and

suffering,” he recalled during a “Christopher Closeup” interview. Father Greg then created

Homeboy Bakery, in which former gang rivals would work side by side and get to know each other as human beings instead of enemies. His approach of building kinship became successful, eventually turning the project into Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation, and reentry program in the world.  

            Father Greg said, “Have [former gang rivals] stand next to each other and make croissants all day. They don’t have to work stuff out, they don’t have to talk about issues or resolve conflicts. Just have them make croissants. Watch what happens. It’s one of those guaranteed things where you say it always works and it always…advances a sense of kinship and community.” 

            Building kinship remains at the heart of Homeboy’s mission, and one of the best ways to accomplish that is by listening. Father Greg explained, “Listening and paying attention is the primary way that we show love. It’s not about advice that we dole out. Can you receive people? Can you allow your heart to be altered? Can you be reached by people? It’s an active thing to allow yourself to be reached.” 

            Listening also allows you to hear the stories and backgrounds of the gang members trying to redirect their lives toward a better way. Those backgrounds generally involve a great deal of suffering, sometimes caused by family members. “Traumatized people are going to be more inclined to cause trauma,” explained Father Greg, “but it’s equally true here at Homeboy that cherished people will be able to find their way to the joy there is in cherishing themselves and others. At a higher level, systems won’t change until people do—and people change when they’re cherished.” 

            The title of Father Greg’s book “The Whole Language” refers to our ability to see the whole person, not just one dimension of a person. “[That’s] how God sees,” he said. “Love is God’s religion, loving is how we practice it…We try to love each other into wholeness and walk each other home to a place of connection and kinship.” 

            One of the things that can negatively or positively affect our ability to be loving is our perception of God. Father Greg explained, “You see people who are exacting, judgmental, demanding, and quick to be disappointed…Where does that come from? I think it naturally comes from a notion of God that’s puny…Richard Rohr says…that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, but our image of God creates us, it directs us, it tells us how to respond to things. So, are we inclusive or are we exclusive? Is there room in our hearts for people or not much space at all? Are we merciful or are we drawing lines instead of erasing them?” 

            One of the key takeaways Father Greg wants to leave people with is the idea, “People aren’t wicked. They’re just strangers to their own goodness…I hope that people will embrace loving as their practice, as their intention, as the thing that they work at.”