From bad boys to homeboys

Summer 2011 Red Cloud Country

Life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation can often be difficult—really difficult. On a daily basis, young Lakota men and women are confronted with tough temptations and tough realities, from gang violence just down the street, to random gunshots fired from a distance, to substance and drug abuse right in their own home.

And in the United States, perhaps no one better understands how to rise above those kinds of challenges than the Homeboys, a group of young people who have overcome the extreme difficulties that sometimes come from growing up in inner-city and rural communities.

This spring, three outstanding members of Homeboys Industries—Joseph Thunderface Holguin, Luis Colocio and Daja Harris—accepted an invitation from Red Cloud Indian School’s pastoral staff at the churches in Manderson and Porcupine to visit the reservation and speak with Native American youth about beating the odds and pursuing their dreams. The men, all from Los Angeles, spoke about the effects that gang life, alcohol and violence had on their lives—and on the lives of countless others—and of their journey overcoming those difficulties.

“The Homeboys and their program have proven themselves to be one of the most influential in the nation,” says Jesuit novice Joshua Peters, who coordinated the visit. “They can relate to some of the obstacles our children here face, and they were here in hopes that our kids could use their stories to understand that there are real possibilities out in the world for them.”

Their visit was made possible by a gift from the Creighton University Jesuit Community, in partnership with Red Cloud. Benji Horgan, spiritual formation director at Red Cloud High School, says the inspirational stories helped his students acknowledge that there are much better things to do in life than partake in unhealthy life choices.

“I really think they got through to our students,” Horgan believes.

In addition to their visit to Red Cloud High School, the Homeboys gave presentations at Pine Ridge High School, Little Wound High School and the Juvenile Detention Center in Kyle, and the Pine Ridge Correctional Facility. Their “main event” was a day of activities at Porcupine School, with a basketball tournament, a Lakota meal, and poetry presentations given by Red Cloud students that focused on teenage suicide prevention. The day culminated in the personal witness of the Homeboys themselves.

Lakota pastoral staff members Joyce Tibbitts and Deb Iron Cloud were instrumental in organizing their varied activities.

The Homeboys were also able to attend Red Cloud High School’s graduation powwow, where seniors honored the three men with gifts of Lakota beadwork for coming to the reservation and sharing their stories of perseverance and faith.

Homeboy Industries, founded by Fr. Gregory Boyle SJ, is the nation’s largest gang intervention and re-entry program. They offer free programs to youth, including counseling, education, tattoo removal, substance abuse and addiction assistance, job training and job placement to enable them to redirect their lives.