“We have forgotten that we belong to each other.” – Mother Theresa

My Next Stage team members and I recently thought it would be a great idea to re-establish our workplace book club. The book selected for our collective discussion was Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle which encompasses stories about “kinship and boundless compassion.”

I must admit that I love to read, but I hesitated for a moment in wanting to read this particular book based on prior experience. I had viewed a video with Father Boyle sharing the journey about his ministry and how he came to form Homeboy Industries. From his presentation, I was disturbed by the street colloquialisms that he used and felt that he was being stereotypical to people within the community he served. Now picture me as the only person of color in a group watching this presentation unfold and one of the only people sharing an alternate view. At that time, his message of kinship did not resonate with me.

That was my first introduction and reaction to Father Boyle. So imagine my dismay when I saw his name as the author of this book. A negative thought occurred that triggered my memory and senses. Yet, I decided to read the book with the team. I cautiously read the first chapter and then became drawn to the stories of gang members who had experienced traumatic and catastrophic situations at the hands of themselves and others. In the mind of a gang member, it was literally a-life-for-a-life. The acts of violence were on the surface and could be seen and felt, but there was an underbelly of pain that had not been addressed or reckoned with until Father Boyle gave the gang members an opportunity to reveal and unveil the ugliness of their pain on their terms with a pure message of love, hope, grace, support, and connection.

Reading this book was my second encounter with Father Boyle and his work on kinship. This time, his words spoke to me on a profound level… a deeper level especially on meeting people where they are (without judgement) and seeing the heart of others.

An Introduction to Kinship

So what is the definition of kinship? Father Boyle states: “Kinship is not serving the other, but being one with the other.”  More expansively, kinship is fostering relationships, building trust, embodying authenticity, and being proximate.

The idea of proximity is what resonates most with me. How can our organizations do a better job of standing in genuine solidarity with the community and elevating other voices with dignity? I believe we’ve seen this play out in real time this year with the rise of homelessness prior to and through the pandemic. I am consistently encouraged by the work of Hope Vibes and Roof Above. These amazing organizations are intimately connected and devoted to the urgent needs of the people they serve. They, too, remove the veil of shame and embarrassment from life’s challenging circumstances and meet people with dignity and respect.

The mission of Hope Vibes (a CULTIVATE alumni organization!) is to bring awareness, hope, and real solutions to the homeless epidemic. The organization exists to develop creative exit strategies to end homelessness through direct relief, research, innovation, advocacy, and systemic disruption. This is evident through providing homeless neighbors with essential hygiene products, through the use of Solar Sinks for hand washing, and through the Hope Tank– a mobile shower and laundry center.

Likewise, Roof Above is working to end homelessness. Just recently, the organization shared just how unexpected homelessness can be on their Instagram page. Individuals moving toward employment or housing can be one unforeseen instance away from a dismantling of their foundation, which can eventually lead to homelessness. Thankfully, Roof Above stands in the gap ready to help people in need.

At Next Stage, we are amplifying ways to embody kinship with the clients we serve and to implement strategies that build strong organizations to fuel community change. At the end of the day, the message we hope to convey is that we belong to each other and TOGETHER we can make a difference. Both of these organizations value proximity in their work, being careful to elevate the voices of those they serve. It is the ability to foster this mutual respect that can create change and inspire understanding.

Written by: Helen Hope Kimbrough