The St. Brigid African Drum Ministry and Jesuit Father Gregory Boyle set the pace for the 18th annual prayer breakfast honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., held Jan. 16 at St. Mary’s Academy in Inglewood.

Sponsored by the archdiocesan African American Catholic Center for Evangelization, the event drew more than 500 participants from different churches and denominations. Its theme --- “Sustaining King’s Dream: Jobs, Justice and the American Dream” --- offered an appropriate tie-in to Father Boyle’s oft-repeated emphasis on meaningful employment as a means to counter gang and youth violence.

In his talk, the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries used anecdotes both humorous and poignant involving rival gang members to exemplify the direct connection between kinship, justice and peace.

“No kinship, no justice,” Father Boyle repeated several times as if a mantra, as he urged participants to “reactivate the vision of Dr. King.” He reiterated what was said minutes before in the opening prayer: to view the breakfast not as the place to get the message, but the place to go from to “nurture the community in kinship.”

“No kinship, no peace,” he continued, remarking that the problem of the world is that “we’ve forgotten that we belong to each other,” citing Mother Teresa. “We’ve forgotten that we are called to stand with those in the margins; with the poor, the powerless and the voiceless; with those whose burdens are more that they can bear; with those whose dignity has been denied.

“I believe if kinship were our goal,” said Father Boyle, “we wouldn’t be promoting justice, but we would be celebrating it.”

He underscored the importance of economic justice, noting it was King’s flagship during the last two years of his life. “He knew that economic inequality is not a defect in the system, it is the system and we stand against that,” said Father Boyle.

To address those kinds of disparities in society, breakfast organizers decided five years ago to shift the focus of the event towards young people. During the first year, Catholic schools were invited to participate with skits showing what the youth thought about King’s message and to share ideas of how to put that message into action.

A committee --- in cooperation with the Junior Peter Claver Daughters and Kings, a nationwide organization that develops leadership skills among youth --- has helped promote youth involvement in the community.

“We want the young kids to get inspired and to really pursue Dr. King’s dream, to go chase it, to fulfill it,” said committee chairman Greg Warner. “A lot of times we sit down and we talk about the dream, but we stop there instead of acting.”

Verbum Dei freshman William King, who has attended the event with his parents since he was seven, concurred.

“I like that Dr. King always used words instead of fists,” said the 15-year-old Junior Peter Claver Knight, “and I liked [Father Greg’s] stories about gang rivals working together.”

 Jesuit Father Scott Santarosa, pastor of Dolores Mission Parish in Boyle Heights, said the event is a reminder of the challenges issued by King. 

“In a world where we are taught to combat violence with violence, evil with evil, it takes creativity and courage to get rid of the darkness with light,” said Father Santarosa, a frequent participant at the event since his days teaching at Verbum Dei where the breakfast was held for many years. “Instead of keeping kids locked up, give them jobs; embrace them with love so their potential comes out.” 

Junior Peter Claver officials stress similar themes to teach their young members the interconnection between leadership and service.

Western states directress Sheila Thomas told The Tidings the organization emphasizes “staying committed” and being of service to the community and open to learn about other traditions and cultures and find common grounds.

“Leadership is a gift from God and as such it is given to us to serve the community,” she said. “Our best example is Martin Luther King Jr., who used that gift from God to the fullest extent, and the best way of commemorating him is by doing community service.”

The event --- which many participants said usually sets the tone for their year --- also included songs performed by the AACCFE Adult Mass Choir and a tribute to Dr. King by Verbum Dei’s Drumline, as well as the talk by Father Boyle.

 “At the end of the day,” said Warner, “in these economic times what youth want is hope, and that’s what Father Greg brings.”

For more information about the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization, visit or call (323) 777-2106.

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