Author: Knar Gavin
This past Wednesday, over 75 students gathered in Johnson 200 to listen to guest speakers Celeste Fremon and Father Greg Boyle. The event was sponsored by several on-campus groups and academic departments, including the Intercultural Community Center.
Celeste Fremon discussed her recent book, G-Dog and the Homeboys: Father Greg Boyle and the Gangs of East Los Angeles. Father Boyle spoke on his role as executive director for the largest gang intervention program in the country.
Dean Eric Frank introduced the speakers. “Occidental is a place… driven by a very particular and distinctive mission,” he said. Frank went on to give a brief introduction of the speakers, noting that Oxy is an institution with core commitments to diversity and matters of social justice.
Fremon initiated her talk with a personal note. “I was not the logical person to be doing what I’m doing now,” she said. Fremon, a distinguished journalist and author, described herself as an unlikely candidate for journalistic work within gangs. “I was once a USC song girl,” she said with a laugh.
Fremon went on to read an excerpt from her book, G-Dog and the Homeboys. The passages she read discussed a young man named Blue and his girlfriend Gabby. Blue, a gang member, met a tragic end on the streets of L.A.
Blue’s case was not unusual. Fremon elaborated on the commonplace nature of such tragedies. “Who dies first? The one who gets the bullet or the one who pulls the trigger?” Fremon asked, quoting from her book. Victims like Blue are often shot by young members of rival gangs, and those who pull the trigger often do so at their own peril.
After reading the excerpt about Blue, Fremon shared how she got involved with L.A. gangs. Fremon heard about a Jesuit priest who was running an alternative school. Her first visit to the projects in which Father Boyle worked was for a funeral. A sixteen-year-old young mother had been shot in the head.
Fremon arrived at the funeral with preconceptions about what gang members were like. Standing quietly at the back of the chapel, however, Fremon was transformed. “My entire world shifted on its axis… they’re just kids, I thought, they’re just kids,” she said, referring to the gang members in attendance.
Fremon described the young men at the funeral paying their respects to the girl. Upon walking by the coffin, “they’d stroke her face and sob,” Fremon said. She went on to discuss the nature of gang related violence. “Guys were shooting at people they’d known since grade school,” she said.
The transformation that Fremon underwent had lasting effects. “I went to do the article and I sort of never came home,” she said. Fremon went on to write a wide range of articles relating to gang violence and law enforcement in L.A. County. In her closing remarks, Fremon encouraged students to find something to do passionately. “Find the human story that points beyond itself to the larger question,” she said.
Father Greg Boyle followed up Fremon’s talk. Father Boyle discussed his role as executive director for Homeboy Industries. Homeboy Industries seeks to help young men and women out of gang related activity and violence through providing them with tattoo removal services, mentorship and most importantly, jobs.
“One thousand folks walk through our doors a month… We have enemies working side by side one another,” he said. Gang intervention is crucial in the lives of youths like Blue, and the sixteen-year-old girl. “It’s about standing against the idea that there’s an us and there’s a them, it’s about kinship,” said Father Boyle.
Father Boyle encouraged students to ally themselves with the powerless and voiceless. “We want to expand the margins so that more people are included,” Boyle said. “We hope that the margins will be erased.”
Father Boyle has dedicated his life to gang members in L.A. His intervention program has been a great success and he has supplied thousands of jobs for those who would otherwise remain neglected. In his closing remarks, Father Boyle offered a powerful reminder. “We belong to each other,” he said.
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