“You go from this place to widen the circle.”
That was the challenge keynote speaker Father Greg Boyle issued to the audience at the Faith & Action Spring Conference last week. In a talk that had nearly a thousand people at Eastern Star Church alternating from laughter to tears and from loud applause to quiet contemplation, Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, the world’s largest gang intervention program, instructed listeners to embrace what he calls “radical kinship.”
“What Martin Luther King Jr. said about church might well be said of your time here in this holy place,” Boyle said. “It’s not the place you come to, it’s the place you go from. And you go from here to imagine something of God, to imagine a circle of compassion and imagine no one standing outside that circle.” (If you weren’t able to join us at the Spring Conference, you’ll find some highlights form Father Boyle’s remarks, as well as those of local participants, in the “10 Things We Learned” item below.)
In describing a widening circle, Father Boyle might well have put his finger on the common denominator among the programs we see having the greatest impact here in Indianapolis: They widen the circle. They draw people in rather than reach out to them. They provide a place within a community rather than a lifeline from a community.
I thank each of you for the work you and your organizations do to widen the circle, because, while we applaud and admire the programs, strategies and approaches that you have created to address poverty in our community, we know it is the compassion on which they are founded that will have the greatest impact. Without wider circles, none of our efforts will succeed.
Lindsey Nell Rabinowitch
Project Director, Faith & Action Project
10 Things We Learned
In 1986, a Jesuit priest named Greg Boyle found himself serving as pastor to Los Angeles’ poorest Catholic parish – an area that also happened to have the highest concentration of gang activity in L.A., then considered the gang capital of the world. He soon founded what would become Homeboy Industries, which serves some 15,000 people a year, making it the largest gang intervention program in the world. On May 2, Boyle provided the keynote address for the Faith & Action Spring Conference and participated in panel conversations. Following are some highlights from the event.
1. Service is only the beginning. While he lauded those who serve the people on the margins, Boyle also noted that serving is only a first step. “All of us sort of begin with service, which is a natural place to begin,” he said. “But then service is the hallway. You want to get to the ballroom, which is the place of exquisite mutuality, where there is no ‘us and them,’ there’s just us, which is the only place where you can stand against forgetting that we belong to each other.” He added: “Otherwise there’s a distance even in service – service provider and service recipient – and you don’t want that.”
2. We change when we meet people at the margins. In serving those who God loves most, we become the changed people God wants us to be, Boyle said, describing God as saying, “‘As I have loved you, so must you have the special preferential care and love for the widow, the orphan and the stranger.’ And God identifies these folks because God thinks these are the people who know what it’s like to be cut off.” Then Boyle added, “We don’t go to the margins to make a difference, because then it’s about you. We go to the margins so that the widow, the orphan and strange can alter our hearts forever.”
3. Sanctuary creates more sanctuary. Fr. Boyle described how Homeboy Industries’ 18-month training program attracts gang members because, “It’s a healing place where they can find rest from the chronic and toxic stress.” Then he described how that sanctuary creates a positive domino effect: “They find a sanctuary and they become the sanctuary they sought. And then then they go home and provide that sanctuary to their kids, and for the first time they’ve broken the cycle.”
4. Wounds help us share healing. Sharing a story that held the audience in rapt silence, Boyle described one homie’s life as including so many beatings that he would wear three t-shirts so the blood on his back wouldn’t seep through. Over time, however, the homie found value in his scars. “I was ashamed of my wounds,” Boyle described the young man as saying. “I didn’t want anybody to see them. Now I welcome my wounds. I run my fingers over my scars. My wounds are my friends. After all, how can I help heal the wounded if I don’t welcome my own wounds?” Boyle underscored that sentiment by saying, “If we don’t welcome our own wounds, we may well be tempted to despise the wounded.”
5. It’s about people, not groups. Asked by moderator Michael Twyman to describe some of the lessons he has learned in building up and operating Homebody Industries, Boyle pointed first to his efforts to address gang violence. “In the early days, I kind of worked with gangs and not just gang members, and that was misguided,” he said. Instead, he realized, he needed to address the needs of individual gang members. “Gang violence in a language. It’s about a lethal absence of hope,” he said. “And I started to understand that no hopeful kid every joined a gang.”
6. Healing first, help second. Another lesson learned: While gang members initially said that everything would improve if only they had jobs, Boyle learned over time that something else had to come first: “Healing is what needs to happen,” he said. “A healed gang member will not re-offend. Healing first.”
7. Compassion fatigue is a sign, not a problem. The challenge in putting off “compassion fatigue,” he added, lies in truly understanding that your job is not saving lives, but walking with people. “Saving lives is for the Coast Guard,” he said. “I’m really not interested in it.”
8. The community has the answer. In a panel discussion moderated by Twyman, Nancy Silvers Rogers, executive director of Ministries for Easter Star Church, agreed with Boyle that we’re not here to “save lives.” “The last thing in the world is for any of us to think that we’re coming to save somebody,” Silvers Rogers said. “They don’t need that. What they need is people of humble spirit, willingness to work and … a willingness to listen and communicate. Answers are in the community if we take time to listen and not pre-judge, not sift, but really listen.”
9. We grow together. Also joining the panel discussion was Edna Martin Christian Center President and CEO Tysha Hardy-Sellers, who addressed the importance of growth through collaboration: “We serve about 3,000 people … but, guess what? The Martindale Brightwood community has about 15,000, so we’re just scratching the surface,” she said. “So we need other people, other agencies, other groups, to connect with in order to expand.”
10. Turnarounds happen. “Ten years ago, I was stuck in a ditch,” Jesse Slaugh told the audience. “I was an addict, an alcoholic, a liar and a thief … I had nowhere to go.” In 2015, Jesse found a place to go – Purposeful Design – and that has made all the difference. Participating in an open conversation with Purposeful Design founder David Palmer, Slaugh offered two stirring examples of just how far he has come since joining Purposeful Design, which earned a 2017 Faith & Action grant. Not long ago, he said, he was homeless in front of one of the city’s glitziest towers; now he makes furniture that goes into that tower. And, “Within five years of being homeless, I will be a homeowner, if everything works out,” Slaugh said. “If it’s God’s plan for me.”
Mark Your Calendars: Fall event, Oct. 1, 2019
Familiar face to Americans as a TV commentator and author of books addressing issues from economics to race, Van Jones is also a social-justice warrior who seeks to close prison doors and open doors of opportunity. The founder of a number of social enterprises, Jones will join Center for Leadership Development President Dennis E. Bland and Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana Vice President of Mission and Education Initiatives Betsy Delgado at the Oct. 1 Faith & Action Fall Event for a candid conversation about poverty. Jones and the local leaders will discuss the broad issues contributing to poverty as well as their tangible experiences in working alongside youth and adults in poverty to create pathways to opportunity, remove barriers and facilitate hope.
Books by Van Jones. Go to Van Jones’ Amazon page, and you’ll find that he has written three books since his time in the Obama White House. While each of them carries a specific focus, they all reflect his progressive viewpoints and touch on a few recurring themes: America needs to address its weaknesses – poverty, addiction, pollution and racial strife – in order to find its strength, protecting the environment can be good for both the Earth and the economy, and America has the potential for true greatness. Any of the books would no doubt provide a good foundation for Jones’ participation in the 2019 Faith & Action Fall Event.
Mark your calendar for these important dates.
May 8: Faith & Action Grant submission due by noon (first round of applications, which include a letter of intent and program summary, need to be completed via the website).
May 15: Grant applicants invited to submit full proposals will be notified
June 4: Final grant applications due
Oct 1, 7PM: Fall event at Clowes Memorial Hall
Faith & Action Project at Christian Theological Seminary 1000 W. 42nd Street | Indianapolis, IN 46208 Phone: (317) 931-2336 | Fax: (317) 923-1961 | Email: LRabinowitch@cts.edu | Web: www.cts.edu