I just finished reading a wonderful book called “Tattoos on the Heart” written by Gregory Boyle (Father Greg), a Jesuit priest and the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, CA.
Father Greg has been working with gang members in the LA area since the late 1980’s. His book is filled with many inspirational and heart wrenching stories about his work these kids. For me, Father Greg’s statement “kids I love killing kids I love” is the most poignant in the book. Think about these seven words. First of all, kids should not be killed. Second of all, kids should not be killers. And finally, should we not follow Father Greg’s example and love all kids. The kids who end up killing were not born killers. They were born pure and innocent. They were taught day by day, incident by incident, beating by beating that violence was an the answer to their problems. There were taught to be killers.
Father Greg makes is very clear that he loves all the kids in the neighborhood including the some 150,000 gang members. He does not limit his love as it is unconditional. He believes in consequences. Killing needs to be punished, but love should transcend all.
The experts say that kids join gangs for protection, love and respect. Given the violence that gang members inflict on rival gang members, protection is not possible. The violence is constant and gut wrenching. There is no protection. As for the love and respect, Father Greg shows a kind love and respect for the gang members that is so much more powerful than anything coming from gangs. These kids crave the love and respect they have never received from their mother and father let alone any responsible adult. They are seduced by the false community found in gangs. Father Greg believes in the kids and sees the good in them. This is truly what the kids crave, the acknowledgment by adults of the good in them. In reading the passages of this book, I was struck over and over again by this amazing power.
If you are looking for inspiration, if you believe that all kids deserve to be loved and respected, check out “Tattoos on the Heart.”
P.S. Thanks Annie V. for giving me this book.