‘Violence is the Language of Despair,’ Say Faith & Civic Leaders at Community Forum on Gangs & Extremism

July 4, 2013

On Sunday, June 30, MPAC, All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena, and Homeboy Industries co-sponsored a powerful community forum -- “From Despair to Hope: Connecting the Dots Between Gangs and Violent Extremism” -- to examine the plague of violence at the hands of young men in our society today.

“Violence is the language of despair,” explained Father Greg Boyle, Founder of Homeboy Industries. “We must infuse hope to those in despair, work to heal trauma and provide mental health care when needed.”

SEE: Full video of “From Despair to Hope” Forum (Youtube.com)
ALSO SEE: “From Despair to Hope” photo album (Flickr.com)

Using Homeboy Industries as a successful model, Dr. Maher Hathout (MPAC’s Senior Adviser), Fr. Greg Boyle (Founder and CEO of Homeboy Industries), and the Rev. Ed Bacon (All Saints Church) started the program with a discussion on how to incorporate its best practices in dealing with violent extremism.

“This issue is the interfaith community’s issue, not just one faith or religion,” Dr. Hathout said. “The solution for young Muslims choosing religious extremism is not solely in the hands of the Muslim communities, but in fact is an interfaith community-based problem and solution. Just putting it on the Muslims is cowardice.”

In addition to the forum, the three community leaders also published an oped in The Washington Post on “A Declaration of Independence from the culture of violence.” The oped reads in part:

“It is imperative for us as leaders of our faiths to be boundlessly compassionate, while reviling violence of all kinds, whether in the form of gang violence or Muslim extremism. We must separate the acts from the individuals. Our love for humanity must include all, even those who engage in violence.”

 ALSO SEE: “A Declaration of Independence from the culture of violence.” (Washington Post)

Homeboy Industries, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, helps to rehabilitate those who have fallen victim to gangs by providing intervention and rehabilitation by providing training and jobs.

Fr. Boyle explained how some youth find themselves stuck in a trauma that is so severe that they are unable to transform their pain, and they instead transmit it.

“If the present does not compel you to progress, then you eventually cease to care whether or not you duck out of harm’s way, and you instead put yourself into that situation so you can end your life, no matter the means,” he said. “Relationships are the key to unlocking the closed bridge that makes us unable to help these individuals.”

During the second half of the program, Edina Lekovic, MPAC’s Director of Policy and Programming; Mikala Rahn, Founder of Learning Works Charter School; Dr. Eric Walsh, Pasadena Director of Public Health; and Wasin Alshaheed, Social Worker at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center; joined the speakers on the stage as respondents. Each reflected on the issue, drawing from their own professional experience.

We need to re-engage our youth with nonviolence tactics, rebuild relationships and restructure what our America is, from the top and the bottom," Dr. Walsh said. “Common threads between gangs and religious extremists is that both have suffered scars of violence.

Wrapping up the forum, Salam Al-Marayati, MPAC President, spoke about “Intervention with any troubled person in our houses of worship, non-Intrusion by law enforcement of sanctuaries that should be places for safe conversations of congregants only, and independence of faith leaders from the culture of violence.”

Many interfaith, community and law enforcement leaders were able to join us for the forum. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) sent a letter of support thanking MPAC for organizing the event.

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