In the post-George Floyd era, the term “Anti-racist” has taken hold in the colloquial language. The term has been around for a while, but it had been seen set aside in preference for “diversity.” The term has now taken the center of today’s discussion as “diversity” has proven to be insufficient. In naivete, we thought that if we increased representation of color, we would all get along and sing Kumbaya. The passive method of diversity failed us, and we needed a more active means of dismantling racism, “anti-racists.”
A great example of an anti-racist is Father Greg Boyle, the founder, and CEO of Home Boy Industries and Home Girl Café. In the late 1980s, when gang killings in LA rose above 1,200 deaths per year, the Regan administration pushed for “Law and Order” and started criminalizing young black men. Father Boyle took an opposite approach regarding gang members; he believed that everyone deserved opportunities to thrive as a person and as a contributing member of society.
Father Boyle saw the young gang members not as criminals, but as a product of poverty and desperation. He saw gang members as victims of systemic racism and immersed himself into one of the most dangerous parts of LA. As he started working in the community, he met many who had difficulties restarting their lives because they had tattoos associated with their former gang affiliations. So he began by providing free tattoo removal services.
Father Boyle has devoted his life to helping young men and women whose life circumstances had led them down a road with terrible consequences, but he did not judge them. He did not stand on the sideline lamenting bad decisions made by young people of color, but he took active steps to enable them to make different choices. He has devoted almost 40 years of his life to restore the lives of young people whom others said were worthless.
He started removing tattoos young people came to him, asking for help. Even if they left the gang life, their efforts to build new lives outside of gangs were hindered as potential employers were scared off by tattoos. He used his white privilege to garner resources to provide the help the community requested. He was an ally. He stepped into their world and did not ask them to step into his. He walked alongside the former gang members on their terms to help them achieve their goals.
Over time, his program grew to other areas of building their capacity for independence and self-sufficiency. His programs of self-determination have become a national model, and he has received many rewards for his work. However, I believe his greatest accomplishment has been the model of being an “anti-racist.” Let us take active steps as Father Boyle has done to undo the effect of systemic racism.