By Marissa Lee
Formerly a pastor, the Community Academic Partners in Service’s (CAPS) new director, Pablo Ariza, has a vision to transform Loma Linda University (LLU) and our wider community. “We have two audiences. It’s not just the local community… we also deal with students. It s not just about what students can do for the local community, it is about what service can do in the lives of the students who are volunteering.” One of the ways he is doing this is through exposing his staff and LLU student leaders to a new model of community transformation.
On January 5th, he led a group of nine Loma Linda University (LLU) students composed of student leaders from various schools and CAPS student staff members to the heart of Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world, to visit Homeboy Industries. Homeboy Industries is a radically successful gang-intervention program started by Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has devoted decades to young men and women in the neighborhoods of Boyle Heights. His New York Times Bestseller, Tattoos on the Heart, provides a new model of transformation through his humorous and moving stories. From compassion to Kinship, he writes, ““Kinship– not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not “a man for others”; he was one with them. There is a world of difference in that.”
The visit began by hearing Jesse’s story, a 24-year-old formerly incarcerated gang member whose only future aspirations were to be locked up for life or buried young. After a second incarceration and watching his brother and best friend die in his arms, he wanted a change. Father Boyle reached out to him several times before he joined the 18-month Homeboy trainee program. In the program, he has been working in various positions with Homeboy Industries. Homeboy has helped him expunge his driving record so he could get a driver’s license and is helping him fulfill his dream to go to college. A student at the local junior college, he had the opportunity to study abroad at Oxford University and visit London and Paris, experiences he thought only movie stars and celebrities could do. After sharing his story, he led through group through the Homeboy Industries headquarters, showing them the classrooms, tattoo removal center, bakery, legal, mental, academic, and employment services all in action.
After the tour, several students reflected on how the visit changed their perspectives.
“When you heard [Jesse’s] story, you see how much adversity you overcome and you kind of reflect on your own life and how well off I was.”
“A lot of times we assume that everyone has the same opportunities, when really… it is not that we are not all starting at the same level playing field.”
“It is most about connecting with people we work with and building that rapport.”
Beyond these personal reflections, the students sought to see how to apply Homeboy Industries’ work here. One student reflected, “It is definitely something that I want to support more. I want to see more programs like that be established.” While another student asked why this wasn’t happening in San Bernardino.
Ariza believes exposing students to people and their stories can transform the way they work and serve. “When you actually take the time to actually get to know someone, that disarms us of our prejudices, our fears, our suspicions of an individual, community, or region. What my hope is for students here is … disarming our prejudices and motivating us to contribute to the good that can happen.”