Run 4 Homeboy
Last month my mother gave me an audio copy of “Tattoos On The Heart, The Power of Boundless Compassion,” by Father Gregory Boyle. It is the recorded version of the book she and my father’s spirituality/discussion group in Utah read last month. ‘G,’ as his congregation calls him, describes how he has spent the last twenty-five years as a priest in some of the toughest neighborhoods of Los Angeles and his partnering with investors to create Homeboy Industries, Homegirl Café and other businesses to help employ, educate and support inner city youth in southern California.
In today’s world working with inner city youth usually means gangs and the cruel violence that follows them. The bloodshed in these social circles has taken the lives of more than 150 of the Homeboy congregation and for what would be an overwhelming emotional strain on a normal person G has been there to pray over every one of them. These deaths don’t make our evening news, but in the pages of G’s book the victims of these crimes speak volumes. For the most part all they wanted was some love and a little support for a chance to live. Heartbreaking at times and inspirational at others their stories in the context of G’s compassion touched me.
I have lived in Los Angeles for the last 27 years. I saw what the streets of this city became during the late 80’s when our government cut social programs and ended subsidies for the poor. Boxes lined city sidewalks and became home to families and single mothers with shoeless children. In the nineties those sidewalks began to clear as safety nets returned and social programs were reinstated. In 2011, the box cities have returned and the streets are once again filled with those who not long ago had a future. Violence, that had been declining, is on the rise too. After reading father Greg’s book I once again found myself wanting to do more.
I visited the Homeboy website in the hopes they’d have a page for volunteers or something similar. Among the links I found an entry form for their 2nd annual Run4Homeboy 5k event. This was something I could do that would not only be fun but could also raise funds for Homeboy Industries.
My mother’s group was her inspiration for passing G’s book on and so I went to them to ask if they’d sponsor me as a runner in their place. They were very gracious with their wallets. So on a beautiful October morning, the 5k started and I ran hard finishing 7th in my division (40-49) and 22nd overall (Results). I don’t know how many actually ran the race but it was more than twenty-two so I think I did the group in Utah proud.
G’s ministry will continue of course. I waited for him at the finish line. He crossed it surrounded by three or four of the young men he helps, his homeys, as he calls them. They walked most of the way around only running the last 100 yards to the cheers of many. He was all smiles and couldn’t have been nicer, posing with me in the early sunlight and asking my wife if she got the shot. I thanked him as other runners approached with hands outstretched and cameras ready.
After I got back to the car and looked at the photo I realized G had run the race wearing a t-shirt that was inscribed with the words “In Loving Memory of Lorenzo Smith.” Lorenzo was shot and killed at a party in the early morning hours of April 17th. Only three weeks prior to his death he spoke for the first time in public in front of a group of 200 Boeing employees. He told his life story and about how Homeboy and father G had helped to set him on the right path. He’d gotten his life together. To this date his killer has not been found.
I didn’t know Lorenzo nor do I know G but for me today’s race is what his ministry is all about. In his words, “Hope for the future and the importance of fighting despair through the power of unconditional love.” The hundreds that ran and came to cheer us on are proof that what he started will continue to grow. It was a great event and I’ll be there again next year and hope the spirituality group can join us too.