As we have encountered people on our trip this week we have been asked, “what are you doing?” This question has caused me to reflect on our purpose here and the aspects this trip revolves around. The easiest answer is we are visiting Homeboy Industries to learn about gang violence because largely that is the most well known aspect of our activities this week. However, in reality our trip is about much more than that – it is about a community learning to embrace its challenges and embrace the place that is their home.
As we unpacked our stuff on our arrival on Saturday, we were told that the community had experienced escalated violence in the past month. I was sad at hearing this because just 7 months ago on our last visit people were so happy that they had gone all summer without hearing a gunshot in the neighborhood. While we were being told three homicides had taken place on the streets around the church, I looked around at the faces in the room for a reaction. We hadn’t even been here for 10 minutes and immediately we were hearing of some serious challenges for this community. We didn’t have time to talk about the complexity surrounding this violence or of the communities reaction to it. However, over the past four days each activity we have done and each person we have talked to gives a new perspective on how complex life here is.
Just across the street from the school is a memorial to the latest victim of violence. A 23 year old walking with his friend, who was shot on the street corner. Flowers, balloons, candles, and notes mark this spot where his life was taken. Each time we pass this place I think about how sacred these streets are to this community. This is a place where many families have lost loved ones either because they were innocent and in the wrong place at the wrong time or because they had gotten caught up in the cycle of gang activity. As we walked through the neighborhood on Sunday we stopped to look at the memorial and then turned down another street where I remembered a young girl got caught in cross fire just before we first visited here in 2006. The image of the peace walk we were invited to participate in and praying in front of her home came back to me very vividly.
It is so easy to think of this neighborhood as a place people want to get out of as soon as possible, however we hear so many stories from people who are invested in making this a safer better place to be for their kids. I am sure there are some people here who would rather live somewhere else but the majority of people we talk to have an investment in this community. They see this as their home. For some their kids have died on the streets of this community and they are tied here more deeply than I will ever understand. For others being here is a better life than what they left in other places.
The ministers and leaders who work in this community have also invested themselves in doing “with” the community and not doing “for”. Watching how they work is inspiring, they are true examples of empowering others. By observing the way they honor the sacredness of these streets and the sacredness of people’s stories I have learned a great deal about serving others.
Thank you for keeping up with us!