"I was 7-years-old, my mom turned on the burner of the stove and burned both of my hands," says former 'homeboy,' Luis Colocio. With tears in this grown man's eyes, he finishes- "I ran to the bathroom that night, put both of my hands in the toilet to cool them down and fell asleep in the bathroom."
There is no doubt, the severe consequence for playing with matches falls under the 'child abuse' category. But, as a grown man, Colocio says he "forgives her. She raised me how she knew best," he adds. Colicio says he grew up in the hood, was raised by an abusive, single mother who locked him up in the house to protect him from the tough streets. "I didn't have a father figure."
This personal experience is just a snapshot of the numerous heartbreaking stories I heard while connecting with some "homeboys" and "homegirls" at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, California -- the nation's largest gang rehabilitation center in the United States.
What comes to mind when I say the word "Homeboy" or "Homegirl?"
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
Home·boy \ˈhōm-ˌbȯi\ means:
1 : a boy or man from one's neighborhood, hometown, or region
2 : a fellow member of a youth gang
3 : an inner-city youth
As you watch our Go Inspire Go video on Homeboy Industries, I ask you to observe without judgment for the next few minutes and take in a deep breath of compassion:
I serendipitously came across this story during a business trip to Los Angeles. As usual, I was welcomed by the thick layer of smog and "sig-alert" traffic, so my media consultant, Denise Poon, and I decided to exit the freeway, grab a bite to eat and wait for traffic to die down (By the way traffic hardly ever 'dies down' in the City of Angels.)
We found Homegirl Café, one of the many businesses under the umbrella of Homeboy Industries. Poon and I were so moved by our waitress' story on how Homeboy Industries turned her life around -- we just had to come back and cover this story to share it with you, especially after she told us about their recent layoffs.
Founder Father Greg Boyle and the "Homeboys and Homegirls" moved me to produce this video - my hope is that viewers will think twice before judging others. Father Boyle believes that no life is more important than another.
As the pastor of Dolores Mission Church, in Pico-Aliso, which Fr. Boyle describes as the poorest parish in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, he was inspired to create Homeboy Industries more than 23 years ago to give people like Colocio a second chance to turn their lives around.
This area is also known to have the highest concentration of gang activity in the entire city. Fr. Boyle says, "I started burying many gang members ... I just had to do something." (For the gang members and parolees who wanted a way out of the hood - and back in to the working world.) Finding jobs for parolees wasn't easy, so he decided to create jobs, training, placement services - AND hire them.
As you see in our GIG video, Homeboy Industries needs $5 million dollars to get through the next six months. Father Boyle says, due to the bad economy, grants and donations dwindled, so they need the money to bridge the gap.
I am so inspired by Fr. Boyle and Homeboy Industries' story of compassion and hope. As I sign off, I think of two of my favorite quotes:
"Now you know, so you can't pretend you don't." - Oprah Winfrey
"If you judge people, you don't have time to love them." - Mother Teresa
My challenge to you - What can YOU do?
You can find out more about Toan Lam at http://www.goinspirego.com. Click on the YouTube link and check out the stories his team created, and videos created by viewers.
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