Friday, April 29, 2011

Baby & Me

Friday mornings at Homeboy Industries are usually punctuated by a few excited shrieks and the occasional gurgle. A reality of life in South and East LA-- where most of our trainees and staff grew up-- is that often people start having kids at a really young age. Fifteen years old young.

By the time many make it to Homeboy, they often have two or three kids, and because many of our Homeboys and Homegirls were raised in unconventional arrangements-- if they weren't in foster care or simply without a home for most of their childhood-- they're eager to learn how to do things "right" with their own children. When you ask any homie what they are most proud of, it's a near guarantee that their answer will be "my kids."

That's why Fridays are a great time to peek into classroom A on the upper floor of Homeboy headquarters. The wide room with tall paneled windows is filled with hand-me-down toys and the happy chaos of a handful of children. Theresa, one of our in-house mental health clinicians, runs the class with a cheerful zing, leading the room in kitchen-utensil-aided song and advising one couple on how to gently attain authority during the "terrible twos." She convinces a usually tough homie to smile sheepishly and roll across the floor "like a worm", looking absolutely ridiculous and a little thrilled.

During the last year, Baby & Me has been visited nearly weekly by pediatric interns and residents from USC. It's a win-win situation: our clients have the opportunity to "ask the Doctor" (free of financial, transportation and "waiting" hassles) and these medical students have the opportunity to get to know something (something important, we hope) about our clients.

One Homeboy, who is now designing a course he wants to teach about being a real father, said that Baby & Me has made him realize a lot about parenting:"Most of us, we grew up in a society that's a little bit chauvinistic..gangsters aren't supposed to be fathers that are around, most of the time you're in prison and when you're not you're not expected to just sit around and actually play with your kid."

"In the class, you get to bond with your child and you get to see 'I can be a parent, too, I can spend time with and take care of my baby'"

Baby & Me only lasts for an hour and a half, but it's the kind of thing you want to carry around in your pocket all day.

Getting ready

Headquarters have been all a-fluster this week as we gear up for our annual awards dinner, Lo Maximo, this Saturday.

Homeboys hurry to find white button-downs. They experience the frustration and eventual joy of tying a tie for the first time.

Our event planner has set up shop in our supposed to be two but really four person office, and colorful post-its make a waterfall across large seating charts.

The Café is bustling and all the girls look a bit wide-eyed and over caffeinated; they have a long weekend ahead.

The theme of this year's event is "Virtual Homeboy"-- we give tours of our headquarters every day, but not everyone has had a chance to make it to our busy building. Instead, we're bringing Homeboy to them- setting up shop with tables for each of our departments to show what they do, from baking bread to preparing for the GED, removing tattoos and hunting for job opportunities.

"Lo Maximo" means "the greatest," and it's a night for us to celebrate our successes and thank our supporters. Tune in next week as we recap the event, and share some of the truly amazing stories of the Homeboys and Homegirls who will be speaking.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Word of the day

One encounters an arsenal of new, generally unusable-in-polite-company sayings within the first few weeks of spending time at Homeboy Industries. A small sampling of the overheard:

"Yo, what bank you messing with??" where I might say, "Where do you bank?"

"Can I f*** with your tape for a minute?," a variation on "Lemme hit that stapler"

In response to a query about a speech given at a recent event: "I kept it short, but brief"

And my favorite, which has been proven through extensive googling to actually be a word, albeit one used entirely out of context at Homeboy: "supposably," as in "Well, SUPPOSABLY I forgot to pay my taxes..."

One Homeboy who defies this trend of unusual usage is Saul, an 18 year old who will blatantly ignore the dress code of a Homeboy Industries shirt and jeans, often showing up in near professorial garb-- argyle sweater vests over button downs, garnished with heavy gold chains that really top the look off. One day his normally slicked-back hair magically transformed into corn rows during work.

Lately Saul has been coming into the office making declarations like "I CONCUR!" and pausing for a moment to let us absorb the gravity of his declaration. Then he'll say "that means: I agree," and walk out. One vocab word recently was"hyperbole" and another "consensus."

Saul telling stories outside

Saul casually mentioned to me once that what he likes most about Homeboy is that it feels like a family here, because, in his words, "I've been in and out of juvie for so long, and I've never really had a home.. or a family."

Last week, Saul was on the bus on the way to work. Sitting next to him, as he put it, was "a rich guy with a fancy cellphone."

Saul asked the man if he could look at the phone, played with it for a few minutes, and then gave it back. Entirely normal. The thing is, Saul used to get in trouble for having "sticky fingers"- he'd ask to see things in this way and then fly off of the bus with the cellphone or wallet in hand.

He was proud of himself, now, for having given the phone back, with a warning to the man; "you probably shouldn't just let kids like me see your stuff... they might take it, ya know?"

For the rest of that day, Saul's vocabulary word was "integrity."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wait, what is Homeboy Industries?

In case you've unintentionally stumbled upon this page, a brief explanation of Homeboy Industries: we are a non-profit gang intervention organization in Downtown Los Angeles. Over 12,000 people walk through our doors every year to take advantage of our free services- everything from tattoo removal to a charter high school, legal services to substance abuse counseling, baby & me classes to solar panel installation certification.

Our mission statement is "nothing stops a bullet like a job," and our social enterprises are the living example of this belief. Our Homegirl Café, Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl/Homeboy Merchandise, and Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery serve as training grounds for former gang members and high-risk youth to learn valuable skills while creating excellent products, and learning to work alongside former enemies.

However, at its heart, the true business of Homeboy Industries is not a business-- it is the fostering of a community of kinship, "gang rehab," a therapeutic place where former gang members, recently released, high-risk youth, and those cast aside are given what they need to return to society whole, healed, and resilient. The "bottom line" for Homeboy is to infuse hope in those for whom hope is foreign.

For more about Homeboy, check out our website:

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