Gregory Boyle, the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles — the largest gang-intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world — was tapped as the keynote speaker and presenter for the 18th annual Santa Barbara Mission Conference.
The two-day conference took place Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara, 21 E. Constance St. Father Boyle kicked off the conference on Friday evening with an inspiring talk that related to the conference theme “Radical Kinship.”
The first Santa Barbara Mission Conference took place on Jan. 18, 2003, when missionary Harold Kurtz spoke to a group of 80 people who gathered at First Presbyterian for a mission conference that included presentations by nine mission groups validated by the Presbytery of Santa Barbara.
The conference’s goal, then and now, is “to inform, inspire and engage all who attend so that they will be active in God’s work in the world.”
The conference has grown and now attracts more than 400 attendees each January, with people coming from beyond the tri-counties of California. It has also expanded in denominational terms as the Santa Barbara Mission Conference is now in partnership with the local congregations of the Free Methodist, Covenant, Lutheran and Chinese Evangelical Free churches.
Joining Boyle as the keynote speaker at the 2020 Mission Conference was fellow keynote speaker Kara Powell, executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Powell is the author or co-author of “Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family,” “Sticky Faith Curriculum,” “Can I Ask That?,” “Deep Justice Journeys,” “Deep Justice in a Broken World,” “Deep Ministry in a Shallow World” and “The Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum.”
Emcees were Tom Stephen, pastor at Monte Vista Presbyterian Church in Newbury Park, and Jono Shaffer, pastor of creative arts at Oceanhills Covenant Church in Santa Barbara.
Breakout speakers included Steven Argue, Jude Tiersma Watson, Matt Elam, Chris Pritchett, Teresa Goines and Jason Tarman.
After a rousing performance by the UCSB Gospel Choir, Boyle was introduced by Father Lawrence Seyer, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Montecito.
A native Angeleno and Jesuit priest from 1986 to 1992, Boyle served as pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights, then the poorest Catholic parish in Los Angeles that also had the highest concentration of gang activity in the city.
He witnessed the devastating impact of gang violence in his community during the so-called “decade of death” that began in the late 1980s and peaked at 1,000 gang-related killings in 1992. In the face of law enforcement tactics and criminal justice policies of suppression and mass incarceration as the means to end gang violence, he and his parish and community members adopted what was a radical approach at the time: treating gang members as human beings.
In 1988, they started what would eventually become Homeboy Industries, which employs and trains former gang members in a range of social enterprises, as well as provides critical services to thousands of men and women who walk through its doors every year seeking a better life.
In 1992, Boyle launched Homeboy Bakery to provide training, work experience and the opportunity for rival gang members to work side by side. The success of the bakery led to the creation of Homeboy Industries in 2001. Today, Homeboy Industries’ nonprofit development enterprises include Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen, Homeboy Maintenance, Homeboy/Homegirl Merchandise and Homegirl Café.
Boyle is also the author of the 2010 New York Times bestseller “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.” His new book, “Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship,” was published in 2017.
“We work with the population that nobody desires to work with, and it’s a principle of Homeboy Industries that we stand with them,” Boyle said.
Whether joining its 18-month employment and re-entry program or seeking discrete services, such as tattoo removal or substance abuse resources, Homeboy Industries’ clients are embraced by a community of kinship and offered free wraparound services to facilitate healing and growth.
“We served almost 7,000 members of the immediate Los Angeles community in 2018,” Boyle said, “and the employment and re-entry program was offered to over 400 men and women.
“It would seem that the ultimate measure of health in any community might well reside in our ability to stand in awe at what folks have to carry rather than in judgment at how they carry it. There is no distance between the service provider and the service recipient. We go to the margins.”
Click here for more information about the Santa Barbara Mission Conference, or email email@example.com or call Director Chuck Curtis at 805.687.0754 x102.
— Noozhawk contributing writer Rochelle Rose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.