Jesus is My Homeboy
One moment distilled. Millions of lives touched.
You may think you know all about “Jesus is My Homeboy”. You’ve seen the image on t-shirts, hats, and badges. It is the iconic design worn by celebrities too numerous to mention. You might be wearing a “Jesus is My Homeboy" shirt right now. It doesn’t matter. Unless you have already read this story and are reading it again from the beginning because it’s so amazing, you know almost NOTHING about “Jesus is My Homeboy”.
“Jesus is My Homeboy” is way more than just an image.It is an epiphany. A revelation. It was not developed by a big fashion entity focused solely on making money. It was not created to cash in on a trend. “Jesus is My Homeboy” was born from a challenge that led to salvation; an inspiration fueled by a real life situation.
Behold, the real story behind “Jesus is My Homeboy”:
Van Zan Frater was a young Texan, recently relocated to Los Angeles. It was the 1980s, a time of great financial opportunity, and he was ready to make his place in the world. He was becoming familiar with the area, but didn’t know it well yet, so he pulled into the stark, unadorned parking lot of a run-down looking liquor store in South Central LA to use a pay phone. His guard was down when it should have been up. Way up.
They set upon him as soon as he exited his car: A group of young toughs out to prove their fledgling manhood any way they could. Van Zan, being obviously from out of town, was an easy target for the street gang, who beat him with their fists, and when he fell, kicked him from every angle, his blood splattering their dingy sneakers.
Van Zan made a futile attempt to get up, and was knocked down by a heavy blow to the temple. His vision turned red and his thoughts turned black. He was sure he was going to die here. In this parking lot. On this gritty blacktop. Someone spilled a bottle of soda near his face, and he could smell its overwhelming sweetness evaporating rapidly in the hot Los Angeles afternoon. He felt the muzzle of the gun like a cool kiss at his temple, and he mumbled a silent prayer to Jesus through his swollen mouth as the others egged on the boy with the gun. “Kill him,” they said, “Take his life.” He asked Jesus to spare him. To spare him this manner of death; this undignified and senseless end to his young to life, burgeoning with possibilities and opportunities that would now flow out of him by way of bullet’s path through his brain.
He opened his mouth to plead with them, but they didn’t seem to hear his words. They only became more excited by his distress, and they circled around him and closed in like the mouth of a great, hot beast. “Kill him, homeboy! Kill him!” said the throng of faces that blurred together in Van Zan’s waning vision. Van Zan put his hands up, palms to the sky, and he said,
“Jesus is My Homeboy.”
He said, “Jesus is MY homeboy. And he’s your homeboy, and your homeboy,” and he pointed at random faces above him and he continued, “and your homeboy. Jesus is my homeboy and he is all of yours too. He is your homeboy.”
He locked eyes with the young man who still had the gun against his head and he said, “Jesus is My Homeboy.”
“Don’t you know?” said the gunman, “Jesus is My Homeboy.”
He stood down, and one by one the rest of the crowd stood down as well until Van Zan understood that if he stood up and walked away, he would not be beaten down again.
Van Zan was floored by the miraculous power of this simple message. He felt it his duty to share it with the world somehow. He and a friend set about trying to create an image to pair with his words. He knew he wanted to the image to be without race, creed, or color. He wanted it to be a neutral image with which anyone could identify. After many attempts, they got the image right, and they screen printed t-shirts with the image and the words and they sold them in a local park. The t-shirts became popular and became the official image of the peace conferences held for gangs in the late 1980s. It was used to bring the city of LAs gangs together and call a cease fire. Van Zan copyrighted all aspects of “Jesus is My Homeboy” and planned to start a Jesus is My Homeboy Foundation, dedicated to helping innocent victims of gang violence.
In 1992, the streets of LA were flooded with angry looters furious at the treatment of Rodney King, a victim of police brutality. They broke windows, stole from shops, and brutalized anyone who got in their way. The only printed silk screen for the “Jesus is My Homeboy” T-shirt was at the printers, and it vanished in the path of destruction left by the looters. It was seemingly gone forever, so Van Zan got on with his life, accepting his misfortune as simply the end of an era. All good things must come to an end, he thought.
A few years later an aspiring fashion designer was poking through a second hand shop, looking for gems, when he came across a silk screen that he was very taken with. He began to produce and sell t-shirts featuring the image on the silk screen, and was very successful. The shirts became an international phenomenon, appearing on consumers from all walks of life. One day Van Zan opened a tattered copy of People magazine he found while waiting in line at the DMV, and he saw it. He saw his shirt. A grinning celebrity held out his chest proudly and pointed with both index fingers at the words, “Jesus is My Homeboy”. Then he saw his shirt on TV. Then, on the streets. Then he knew his message was being heard, and he was overjoyed.
By purchasing the original prints and other products, you are helping Van Zan to keep the “Jesus Is My Homeboy” Movement alive.
One moment in a man’s life. One connection made between two men. One message heard around the world.
Jesus is My Homeboy.