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Dr. Grauer's Column - A Homeboy Community of Healing, Love, and Kinship

A small group of Grauer community members, including Dr. Stuart Grauer and Grauer parent Meredith Garner, visited Homeboy Industries, the world's largest gang rehabilitation program. In this week's column, they share the beautiful lessons learned from this inspirational organization.

A Homeboy Community of Healing, Love, and Kinship
By Meredith Garner (Grauer Parent) and Dr. Stuart Grauer

After years of inspiration from reading and listening to Gregory Boyle, a small group of Grauer community members drove up to East Los Angeles last week to visit his creation: Homeboy Industries, the world's largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry program.

For over 30 years, Homeboy has stood as a beacon of hope in Los Angeles to provide training and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated people, allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community. Clearly, gang rehab has never been a part of The Grauer School mission, but as you learn of our visit below, you may find the teachings and learnings for any school including ours to be profound, as we did.

We were greeted everywhere along the way with the warmth and graciousness of the Homeboy and Homegirl community members - many of whom were very young. As we focus on the real fears and pain of almost any teen, even the affluent, it was an extra stretch to imagine that these greeters had suffered extreme forms of trauma: gun and drug violence, domestic violence, physical and emotional abuse, childhood abandonment, abject poverty, and more. 

A lovely woman named Patricia, whose life story would be unimaginable to our Encinitas kids, gave us a tour of Homeboy, along with sharing her past use of a firearm at a terrible time in her life, years of incarceration, and her healing work at Homeboy. As she graciously opened her heart, we felt an immediate connection and kinship with her.

In his most recent book, The Whole Language, Boyle said, “You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. You stand with the belligerent, the surly and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.”

The value of kinship and the vision of creating a connected community is 100% shared between this organization and our own Grauer School, despite any outward appearances of opposing missions. We all have experienced traumas of some sort, though the experiences at Homeboy can be intense and provide a greater perspective to those of us in the Grauer community. Boyle shares a deep insight into his community’s childhood trauma, its effects, and the transformation and healing that discipline, acceptance, and strong core values can create.  

Of course, deeper trauma complicates the healing. In The Whole Language, Boyle describes the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study - created by a San Diego Kaiser Permanente doctor in 1995 - which contains a standard 10-question list allowing people to identify certain childhood traumas they may have experienced before their 18th birthday. The questionnaire includes several forms of neglect and abuse, family traumas such as having a family member with mental illness or substance abuse issues, the disappearance of a parent (due to divorce, death, abandonment, incarceration), etc.

Numerous studies have shown that, with each additional ACE score a person has, the person’s chances for mental and physical health problems, addiction, incarceration, and other difficulties increase exponentially.

Boyle says “every single homie and homegirl who enters our place is a 9 or 10 [out of 10] on the ACEs. This is the margin. This is the degree of difficulty. This is the burden at which we all stand in awe.”

He says, “we think of the light loads a ten-year-old ought to carry, then we contemplate the burden laid on one so young. You have to catch your breath.” You can view the ACE questionnaire below, so you can find out how you and/or your child score.

Boyle provides deep insight: “The homies get caught in the downward spiral…of unworthiness and shame…it’s not that they have forgotten their original goodness, but that they have never been properly introduced to it.” Tapping into that original goodness far transcends the LA gang world and is, we think, the chief role of every teacher in the world and a daily part of the Grauer faculty mission as well.

In The Whole Language, a homie named Raul asked Boyle, “Why do you love us so much?” Without question, one may be surprised at the many times Grauer students have privately asked us this same question. Raul continues, “If you knew what we’ve all did [sic] - it would dissuade you. I signed on the bottom line of everything I did.” And Boyle goes on to say, “if we see Raul’s wholeness, he begins to see it and take up residence [in his wholeness].” Our guide Patricia made it all sound simple, “He just kept welcoming me.”

Boyle continues, “Beyond [all of this], there is goodness. Then our grief and trauma are mere visitors, but not who we are.” As our group encountered the many people milling about the center in this concrete land with sirens intermittently blaring, everyone among them seemed joyful in meeting us and clearly in the process of healing the trauma they have survived. Our guide Patricia generally related the horrific childhood that led her to join the Rockwood Street gang, and her adult siblings' current states of struggle and despondence. She had connected with Gregory Boyle during her time in prison, and in just a few months at Homeboy, she has miraculously begun to heal. We all could feel the burgeoning glow of her presence. As Boyle put it, “We undertake the search for innocence in the other. We cease to find the guilty party…We look for the unchangeable goodness that’s always there in the other… This goodness is a heat-seeking force. Love always sees….” 

In our schools, this is a good time to talk about love and forgiveness. At The Grauer School and schools nationwide, post-pandemic, we have witnessed spikes in anxiety and ADHD that distract all of us, and we are still doing all we can to climb out of that. Ultimately, as a faculty (or as parents), we are growing to see ourselves at least as much as healers as teachers. 

Boyle believes it takes 18 months to begin true healing of the deep and broad trauma his community members have endured, a time frame that, coincidently or not, Grauer has relied upon and cited for many years as a reference for our change efforts. He says, “our eighteen-month training program mirrors the eighteen months it takes for an infant to attach to the caregiver.…we call forth the unshakable goodness that is already [inside the homies and homegirls].” With this, Boyle articulates the essence of great teaching: the pure, nonjudgmental, patient belief in the student. No school succeeds absolutely nor has Homeboy, but this is the vision.
Patricia, our tour host, recently began month 5 of the Homeboy Industries 18-month program.  Those who qualify for this 18-month program receive what they need from a long list of services: education, trauma therapy, classes in areas such as anger management, parenting, and domestic violence, substance abuse services, workforce development, tattoo removal, legal assistance, financial assistance, mental health support, and more. 

Boyle shares, at Homeboy, “we see wholeness, and it helps all of us rewire, not just the traumatized…then we can remind each other that we are made for loving, and that the true measure of our love…is to love without measure.” We are all rewiring. The essential message for Grauer here is, our students are not passive recipients of their education: ultimately it is only effective when they are seeking it out, intrinsically developing their own agency and purposes. 

Boyle believes all people are inherently worthy and loved. In a school or parenting context, he said “you teach children that they are valuable by valuing them. Not by insisting that they prove their value to you.” We can write our Encinitas issues off as first-world problems, but here is the truth: we all need people to understand our worthiness. Perhaps it is the human condition, but whatever our ACE score, we all are capable of blocking our own happiness and health with anxieties, distractions, junk food, and a sedentary or screen-addicted lifestyle. We all are subject to pain, life’s great teacher. As teachers, we can do no better than to be healers, wherever we are.

When we first googled Homeboy for driving instructions, we were concerned by the total asphalt coverage in every direction and the total lack of natural or green space in the community, but we are now taking heart that, in an absence of nature, love and connection can provide. Our time at Homeboy was a beautiful lesson in love, healing, community, connection, and kinship - all lessons we can bring to life in our Grauer School community, in each of our homes, and in each of our communities.

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Photos for Dr. Grauer's Column

Fearless Teaching® Book
by Dr. Stuart Grauer

Fearless Teaching® is a stirring and audacious jaunt around the world that peeks—with the eyes of one of America’s most seasoned educators–into places you will surely never see on your own. Some are disappearing. It is a bit like playing hooky from school. You will travel to the Swiss Alps, Korea, Navajo, an abandoned factory in Missouri, the Holy Land, the Great Rift Valley, the schools of Cuba, the ocean waves, and the human subconscious—oh, and Disneyland.

There you will find colorful stories for the encouragement, inspiration, and courage needed by educators and parents. Fearless Teaching is not a fix-it book—it is more a way of seeing the world and the school so that you can stay in your work and focus on what matters most to you.

"Grauer’s writing reminds us that Great Teaching, singular, rare, unusual, is something that should be sought after and found. Thank you.”
Richard Dreyfuss, Actor, Oxford scholar, founder of The Dreyfuss Initiative

Click here to order Fearless Teaching® today

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