Recently some friends and I traveled to Nashville, to hear from Thistle Farms founder Becca Stevens. Becca began a program 20 years ago to help women victims of sex trafficking, and it’s been remarkably successful. 80% of Thistle Farms survivors have jobs and have stayed clean and sober after a five-year snapshot. My friends and I are thinking of starting a sister organization where we live since two of the largest national interstates cross in our community, and sex trafficking has become a growing issue.
A key to their success is jobs. Becca shows us a chart of their many partner organizations (“let the experts help you”), and we tour the manufacturing facility she created from scratch, staffed by the survivors, (“The workforce is our mission”), where they make body lotions, soap and healing oils for sale (“let your products tell your story”). She reflects on these women, who are poster children—many not much older than children– for overcoming adversity.
“We teach them new life skills. Many of the women were sexually abused as children, and one goal is for them to learn how to sleep in a bed, instead of in a chair. They were raped in beds, so thinking of beds as comfort is a process.” Stories like these take my breath away.
For the book I’m writing, a leader I’m highlighting reminds me of Becca. He is Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. Greg, who most call ‘G,’ works with gangs in LA and transforms these lost kids into loving, contributing members of the LA community. Again, the key to it all is jobs. He created Homeboy Industries, where they do silkscreen work, merchandising, maintenance, and own and staff a café too. By allowing them to feel useful, he helps these kids gain self-accountability and self-respect. The workforce is his mission too.
Oh a detail—both Becca and G are priests. I call them priest-entrepreneurs, because they both started new businesses for their organizations which bring in millions, and provide jobs for those they serve. I’m convinced either could run a billion dollar business better than some who run them today.
We don’t hear much about leaders like Becca and G; instead, the media likes leaders who act like children, or narcissists who are motivated by arrogance and greed. The more sensational the person the better, because that means readers and ratings. I get it. I was in that business.
But how about shining a light on leaders like Becca and G? These two grown-ups know who they are, and what they can offer back to the world. They lead from a centered, stable place, and inspire their people every day by offering them jobs, compassion, and solidarity. They stand with their people, not above them. Because they do, each young man and woman recalibrates what is possible for them, what it means to find purpose. Like oxygen, people breathe in hope at Thistle Farms and Homeboy. We could all use a shot of hope every day.
These leadership stories are worth covering.