Redeeming the demonized

Last Thursday night, one of Los Angeles’ most respected homeboys looked out at the hundreds of people in the pews at the Fremont Presbyterian Church and quoted Mother Teresa. “Sometimes we just forget that we belong to one another,” he said.

The Rev. Greg Boyle, the guest speaker at the annual fund-raiser for Sacramento Area Congregations Together, explained to the crowd that he started Homeboy Industries in 1992—after witnessing years of explosive gang warfare—to give jobs to gang members who were tired of violence and looking for options. In the most desperate area of Los Angeles, in the nation’s largest projects, Boyle took in thousands of hardened, tattooed, once-violent men and women. He’s seen many of them transformed. Others, he’s buried.

“One thousand homeboys walk through our doors every month looking for services,” said Boyle. He wants to employ them all, but some struggle with their despair or won’t work next to their sworn enemies. “The goal is to create a kinship,” said Boyle. “No kinship, no justice. No kinship, no peace.”

Boyle’s collected countless stories of noble homeboy behavior from his years running the company’s bakery, its silk-screening operation and its tattoo-removal service. He pulled out a few favorites, introducing the audience, through his warm, intimate storytelling style, to homies who were transfixed when they saw themselves in suits for the first time right before joining the first lady at the White House for an honorary dinner. He recalled proud homeboys bragging to strangers on the bus at the end of their very first day of work, and others who found a quiet friendship working shoulder to shoulder with their rivals.

But Boyle also reminded the audience that kids who join gangs are those with no hope, those who live in crushing poverty, those wrongly identified as “bad kids” and fed “messages of shame their whole lives.”

“I never met a hopeful kid who joined a gang,” said Boyle. Gangs, he said, are the poor city kid’s version of teen suicide.

So, what can urban activists do to prevent the next generation’s gang wars? Help the poorest communities form their own after-school programs, their own mentoring programs.

“You stand with the demonized,” he said, “so that the demonizing will stop.”

—Chrisanne Beckner

What’s in a name?

Sacramento civil-rights attorney and constitutional-law professor Jeff Kravitz has never been a fan of what he calls “the two party tyranny.” So, he announced his candidacy for California’s 5th Congressional District on April 26 as a member of the Green Party.

Kravitz, who splits his time between the office, the classroom and his KDVS radio show, Panic Attack, says that most Democrats have simply stood by and watched while the Bush administration has wasted lives and money on absurd war. He makes a point of calling out Representative Doris Matsui on several issues.

“Where have Doris and the Democrats been when President Bush blatantly violated the Constitution and laws of the United States by authorizing the crime of illegal wiretaps without a warrant?” he said on his Web site, http://kravitzforcongress.com.

Matsui filled the seat of her late husband, Robert, after winning a special election in March last year.

While he respects the Matsuis, Kravitz urges voters not to let sentiment weigh in on their decision at the polls.

“I think that there were some people who thought that somehow, because she was his wife, she had seniority,” Kravitz told SN&R. “We live in a democracy. There are no inherited positions in the United States.”

But just like the public’s ability to distinguish a candidate from her name, Kravitz said both democracy and civil liberties are rapidly disappearing.

“The United States is no longer viewed in the world as the exemplar of democratic values. We are involved in this country in a struggle to preserve the Constitution and to preserve the United States as that shining city on a hill.”

Despite his lack of political experience, Kravitz says he’s a match for Matsui.

“I am absolutely, 100-percent qualified. There is not an issue I do not understand,” he said. “We are ready to debate Doris Matsui and the other candidates any day of the week.”

—Amanda Dyer