Yesterday, a group of some of my favorite bloggers joined me for lunch at the Homegirl Café.
I was working with Reclaim LA, a group trying to raise awareness, and more importantly, money for Homeboy Industries. They are current or former students of UCLA Professor Jorja Leap. Last semester, she brought a former gang member into the classroom to talk to students and some were so moved, they had to act.
“As a teacher you can’t hope for more,” she said. “They learn something in the classroom and turn it into meaningful action.”
The class speaker had spent his entire life in prison and when he got out he found a safe place with Homeboy’s gang rehabilitation program and was making an honest living working for the organization. He told the students that he had never been outside of California and it was his dream to go to New York City. The class was so touched by his story that they held a fundraiser and managed to raise $600.
He was thrilled, then devastated when his parole officer said he couldn’t leave the state. Not soon after that he was one of hundreds of people laid off from Homeboy. The class decided to give him the money to live on until he can get back on his feet.
Homeboy is the largest gang intervention agency in Los Angeles and serves 12,000 people a year. It’s very unlikely that the financially strapped city of Los Angeles will be able to pick up the slack if Homeboy is forced to close, Leap said. If it closes the city will be in serious trouble. There are no other programs like Homeboy’s in LA. Professor Leap is writing a book on the gangs of Los Angeles and conducting a 5-year study of Homeboy and its programs.
To do our very small part for Homeboy, friends and I had lunch at Homegirl Cafe. The Boyle Heights business is self-sustaining and run by former gang members. The food is fantastic. We shared roasted corn dish that was excellent and I had cochinita, spicy barbecued pork, and salmon tacos.
If you can’t make it to the café, there will be a Homeboy fundraiser concert this Friday from 9 pm to 2 am at The Alexandria Hotel. It will be hosted by comedian Felipe Esparza and feature Quinto Sol. It’s $10 and 100 percent of proceeds go to Homeboy Industries.