On a sweltering July day in the summer of 2016, gazebos lined South Pasadena's weekly farmer's market, held every Thursday near the Metro train stop. In simple block letters read Homeboy Bakery, and under it, an overwhelming amount of spiced loaves, large chocolate chip cookies, and buttery carb-y pastries. Behind the counter was a man- bald, tattooed, and intimidating. As I picked up a jalapeño-cheddar loaf, I mentioned to him that I was a huge fan of the bakery, its mission, and its people. He was delighted by my mention of meeting his company's founder and my adoration of the company itself. When it was due for me to go, I didn't have cash to purchase my loaf of bread. I was about to return the loaf onto the dark blue table, but the man placed his trust in me. He allowed me to take what I wanted, with the promise that I would return the next week to pay him back. Trusting a stranger. Feeling compassion. Showing love.
Homeboy Bakery is nestled in Los Angeles' Chinatown, adjacent to their sister, Homegirl Cafe. Both eateries are from Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program focused on pushing the "restart" button on the social lives of marginalized gang members.
The program offers gang members, even those who are from enemy gangs, employment through their many job opportunities that range from silk screening, solar panel installation, and, of course, bakeries and restaurants. Additionally, the company provides educational services, such as GRE prep, mental health services for domestic abuse and substance abuse, tattoo removal, and legal counseling. The program seeks to decrease incarceration and death within gang communities by emulating their slogan "Jobs, Not Jails."
In the wake of DuVernay's documentary, 13th, American society is gaining awareness of incarceration in this country. The overpopulation, unfair circumstance and intentional abuse and mistreatment faced by inmates scream "injustice." Additionally, socio-political conversations on immigration, particularly the mistreatment of young children at the US-Mexico border, has highlighted a perception of the "other" rather than the "human." As a society, we have responded with a lack of compassion and marginalization for people we deem different.
Father Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, writes in his novel Tattoos on the Heart about the boundless love and compassion he has felt towards gang members and how this love has transformed their lives and their relationship with others. The novel and program come from a very loving place as Boyle, a white priest, emulates patience and compassion towards gang members, mostly Latino or Black, who have been surrounded by death and criminalization. It's a touching novel that explores the marginalization gang members feel, regardless of their imprisonment history, because we as a society have pushed them and their broken narratives into a corner. People shudder at the thought of places with "high gang activity," but fail to recognize that gang life is a response to society's lack of compassion towards those in poverty, those living in under-resourced areas, and/or coming from immigrant families. The novel leaves the message that no matter who you are or what you have done, you are capable and deserving of love.
Gang life is complex, and the reasons why people enter and stay in them is complex in and of itself. Multiple socioeconomic factors play a role in these individuals' lives, factors that are mostly out of their control. Homeboy pushes these technicalities aside and sees the human behind the bars who seeks help, compassion, and love. If only we can perceive the world in this way- with love rather than fear or hate. Love takes on many forms, but overall, it seems to be a willingness to open up without judgment or predisposition, with blind trust and faith, and with boundless compassion.
You can support Homeboy at your:
- Local Los Angeles Farmer's Market
- Local Ralph's that sell Homeboy made chips and salsa (I recommend the pineapple ginger)
- The LAX airport now has their own Bakery location
- If you're in the LA area, visit Homeboy Bakery or Homegirl Cafe (the chilaquiles? AMAZING.)
- Volunteer for educational, legal, and medical services
- Learn more at https://www.homeboyindustries.org/
For me, love was placing the green paper on the man's tired hands for two things: 1) my loaf of jalapeño cheese bread and 2) the blind trust he placed on me to return the next week in that sweltering July heat.
High school me taking selfies with the founder of Homeboy IndustriesAshley Lanuza
*cover photo not affiliated with Homeboy Bakery