Let’s Go, Homeboys
Sister Susan Rose Francois
October 6, 2020
Are we not each better than our worst moment?” I have never forgotten that question, ever since I first heard it raised by Fr. Gregory Boyle during a presentation at the LA Religious Education Congress more than a decade ago. It was such a countercultural question, centered on goodness, compassion, human dignity and the power of redemption. I have returned to that question at times when I have not been my best self. It has helped me pick myself up, dust off the cobwebs and start again. I have returned to that question when I’ve accompanied others. It is a question that leads to community and future possibility.
Flash forward to this week’s Nuns on the Bus virtual site visit with Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, California. The goodness of the men gathered on the call for a conversation with Sr. Simone Campbell — Father Greg, Miguel and Franky — jumped off the screen. I found myself leaning into the screen and smiling, even as they shared stories of their own struggles. Miguel and Frank, both formerly incarcerated gang members, exuded care, compassion, love, and a desire to build community.
“I love life,” said Miguel. “I am living life to the fullest.” His eyes lit up as he told Sister Simone about being part of the Homeboys’ response to address food insecurity caused by the pandemic. Homeboy Industries has pivoted their operations and is now providing 10,000 meals each week to seniors and people experiencing homelessness. “It feels so good to be giving back to the community after taking so much,” said Miguel.
Franky talked about the transformative power of community. “The energy you see and feel here helps me to get where I want to be,” he said. Franky is working to get out the vote this election season, making sure that the formerly incarcerated know how to exercise their voting rights. He knows first-hand that voting matters because his own sentence was reduced due to California Proposition 57, passed by the voters in 2016, which authorized sentence credits for rehabilitation, good behavior and education.
My mother spent many years working with incarcerated men and women, helping them to develop decision making skills and prepare for life after their release. I couldn’t help but think about my Mom as I listened to Miguel and Franky describe the power of community. “What I needed,” said Miguel, “was for my community to be able to hold me.” They both talked about what it meant to them when Father Greg remembered them, knew their name, and showed that he cared. “It’s kind of a thrill to be valued and cherished,” said Father Greg. “It’s the thing that motivates.”
Father Greg said that he hopes we all have 2020 vision now. “I am both hopeful and optimistic at the same time,” he said. Listening to Miguel and Franky, I am not surprised he feels this way.
My virtual site visit to Homeboy Industries was motivating and energizing. It reminded me that what really matters is being a community of support, in our own circles and beyond, in good times and in bad. Whether it’s bringing food to the hungry, encouraging their peers to vote or reconnecting with local communities and families in positive and life-giving ways, these men are witnesses to the power of community. Violence and fear will not have the last say. May love, not fear, go viral. Amen.
[Susan Rose Francois is a member of the Congregation Leadership Team for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. She was a Bernardin scholar at Catholic Theological Union and has ministered as a justice educator and advocate. Read more of her work on her blog, At the Corner of Susan and St. Joseph or in GSR’s Horizons columns.]