| G-Dog, or Father Gregory Boyle, is a foremost expert on gangs because he walks in their shoes daily.Courtesy photo
I thought I knew a lot about unconditional love. I knew I didn’t have it as a child and I knew I was going to shower my own children with it.
What I found out after reading “Tattoos on the Heart” is not only did I never have it as a child, I’m just barely pulling it off with my own children.
But after reading the story of how one man’s unconditional love for the toughest to love—in this case East L.A. gangbangers—changed their lives for the better in spite of the odds, not only did I learn that it’s possible, but I learned how.
“In the monastic tradition, the highest form of sanctity is to live in hell and not lose hope,” Jesuit Priest Gregory Boyle wrote. “What is the delivery system for resilience? In part, it’s the loving, caring adult who pays attention. It’s the community of unconditional love, representing the ‘no matter whatness’ of God.” Best parenting manual I’ve read so far.
For two decades, Boyle and his homies and homegirls at Homeboy Industries, where the motto is “Nothing Stops a Bullet Like a Job,” have turned around the lives of roughly 12,000 kids a year looking for a new way of life by employing, training and loving them. Their story is told through a documentary film called “G-Dog,” by Academy Award winner Freida Lee Mock. It will play this Saturday, Oct. 13, at 7 p.m. at the Sun Valley Opera House with proceeds going to The Hunger Coalition in observance of Hunger Awareness Month.
“I have been tremendously inspired by the honest approach Father Boyle takes when working with these kids,” said Naomi Spence, program director of The Hunger Coalition. “He sees opportunity in each kid and has a magical way of helping them open their eyes and hearts to their own potential. This is always our goal when working with our clients at The Hunger Coalition. This is a beautiful story of the purest unconditional love, which I find contagious.”
Spence said both The Hunger Coalition and Homeboy Industries are invested in helping those they serve become contributing members of their communities. In recognition of that shared goal, the movie premiere offers our local community members the chance to learn more about the services provided by The Hunger Coalition and see how social enterprise benefits individuals and communities.
A special VIP reception with open bar and light dinner will be held at the Boiler Room prior to the screening. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet two former gang members along with filmmaker Mock. Tickets for reception are $50 and include VIP seating for the screening; a limited number will be sold.
Boyle says in his book that he sat down and spilled the stories and parables after a brush with cancer convinced him that although he cheated death numerous times in his work with gangs over the years, he might not be invincible after all.
Mock said she gravitated to the project after reading a blurb about the New York Times bestseller that Boyle had penned.
“I was intrigued by the essence of the story,” she said. “A Jesuit priest, gangs and the solution to world failure to the problem and, Father G’s solution—unconditional love.”
G-Dog is a term of endearment given to Boyle by his flock, the G for Greg, the Dog, symbolizing his crossover from an outsider to a revered friend.
“A ‘dog’ is the one upon you can rely—the role dog, the person who has your back,” Boyle explains.
And how a white guy from a childhood and home life that he described as the happiest place on earth became the epicenter of hope in one of the darkest places in the nation will inspire and, if not conjure up visions of the possibilities for global social change, at least restore some hope in the reader. And now with the film, the visual to accompany the amazing force that Homeboy Industries is can be fully realized.
“I was interested in how a Jesuit priest became one of the top gang experts in the country, and I found the world he created—Homeboy Industries in downtown L.A., a national model for successfully turning kids away from gangs—the most hopeful, amazing and transformative place,” Mock said. “Because here young men and women are on a journey of hope and transformation and have left the gang life behind. There, you confront none of the stigmas associated with gang life—violence, hopelessness. You might say ‘G-Dog’ the story is a ‘postmodern’ look at former gang members where second chances and the motto ‘nothing stops a bullet like a job’ offer hope.”
Mock said she learned, “what we all can share once our minds and hearts are opened up to understanding a complex social issue.”
“I have come to see how Father Greg has put a human face on young men and women at risk … and how we as a community can help to redirect young men and women toward a positive and productive future,” she said.
Though sad incidents occur throughout the book, Boyle’s insight and humor balances out the pain as he explains how his definition of unconditional love has turned around the seemingly impossible: “Homies, more often than not, just decide to put themselves in harm’s way when things turn bleakest. Gangbanging is how they commit suicide. Without wanting to, we sometimes allow our preference for the poor to morph into a preference for the well-behaved and the most likely to succeed. If success is our engine, we sidestep the difficult and belligerent and eventually abandon ‘the slow work of God.’ Failure and death become insurmountable.”
Boyle admits to losing his cool and his temper, but never retracting his love.
“I want to lean into the challenge of intractable problems with as tender a heart as I can locate.”
General admission tickets for the screening are $10. Tickets can be purchased at Chapter One Bookstore in Ketchum and at Wood River Motors in Hailey. Go to www.gdogthemovie.com or www.thehungercoalition.org for more information. Ticket sales will go directly toward fighting hunger in Blaine County.