Things were not looking up for gang violence in Los Angeles in the 1980s and early '90s.
According to archived records from the Los Angeles Police Department, in December of 1993, there were reportedly 61,362 active gang members in L.A.
In an effort to inspire, motivate and change the lives of those deeply involved in gang activity, Homeboy Industries was born.
The nonprofit sought to answer a game-changing hypothetical:
"What if we were to invest in this population rather than just endlessly incarcerate?"
Prior to what is now Homeboy Industries, L.A. native Father Gregory Boyle was determined to turn things around in his community. He believed gang members needed the opportunity and outlet to turn their lives around.
In 1988, Boyle created a program called "Jobs For Future" as part of the Dolores Mission Parish, aimed at working with business owners willing to hire former gang members. Boyle also worked with his parish to establish an elementary school and day care program.
Fast-forward four years. Boyle established Homeboy Bakery in 1992. Homeboy Bakery emerged in the midst of the Los Angeles riots with the intention of engaging people formerly deeply involved gang activity in solid work experience and specifically "learning the art and science of preparing breads, pastries, cakes…"
The idea was to bring former enemies together, but it was not an easy journey.
Throughout the years, Homeboy Bakery endured ceiling leakages, broken ovens and, in 1999, the bakery even burned down. But the organization persevered through the hardships
With the pursuit of new business partnerships and social programs, their independent nonprofit, Homeboy Industries, was launched in 2001.
The nonprofit operates on the idea that without hope, young people will more likely be led to gangs. According to research conducted by Homeboy Industries, two thirds of young offenders are likely to be re-arrested. Homeboy worked to be a resource for a positive alternative.
On its website, the LAPD offers five main reasons they discovered why young people join gangs:
-Identity or Recognition
-Fellowship and Brotherhood
In an interview with VICE's Munchies, Homeboy trainee Javier "Malo" Medina shared how Homeboy boosted his career in baking.
"They found out I was a good cook and got me a job in the bakery," he told Munchies. "You have to be willing and wanting to change, or else [the program] won't work for you… I got tired of the gang life, the same routines, running the streets."
Homeboy Industries currently operates a number of social enterprises (in addition to Homeboy Bakery) aimed at making a difference: Homegirl Café & Catering, Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery, Homeboy & Homegirl Merchandise, Homeboy Diner at City Hall, Homeboy Café and bakery at LAX, Homeboy Tortilla Strips and Salsa, Famers Markets, Catering, and online market Homeboyfoods.com.
Their impact has reached many.
"Homeboy Industries has been the tipping point to change the metaphors around gangs and how we deal with them in Los Angeles County. This organization has engaged the imagination of 120,000 gang members and helped them to envision an exit ramp off the 'freeway' of violence, addiction and incarceration," said Boyle, as listed on the Homeboy Industries homepage.
As a way to encourage and change the lives of these former gang members, Homeboy Industries offers free programs that help tackle the complexities of men and women involved in gang activity.
Those looking to make a change at Homeboy can benefit from tattoo removal, employment services, case management, educational services, legal services, mental health services and an option to enroll in Photovoltaic Training program at East Los Angeles Skills Center with tuition and supply costs covered.
Homeboy Industries believes jobs are 80 percent of what former gang members need to turn their lives around. The other 20 percent is needed in therapeutic and support services. Their multifaceted approach aims to tackle these problems from all angles.
The Homeboy Industries trainees share their testimonies on how their lives have changed on the nonprofit's YouTube channel.
One trainee, Joseph, shared his "Thought of The Day" on how Homeboy has changed his life. When his son died, his family worried he would go back to his previous life. Joseph remained strong through the support of Homeboy.
"We come here and we have no more enemies... we have friends."