St. Thomas theology faculty member Danny Hernandez ‘08 has built his career and philanthropy around the principles of social justice, community service, and entrepreneurial spirit. He mentors emphasizing those same ideals to Eagle scholars who want to make a better world and find solutions to important issues.
Hernandez consistently searches for off-campus components to support discussion topics relating to deprivation and human trafficking. His multi-tier goals relating to the dialogue are to raise awareness through education, show solidarity with those in particular need, and take immediate action. Affecting short-term relief may ignite long-term solutions that address systemic causes.
Understanding Through Service
The latest step for Hernandez in a growing national movement to bring an academic side to social activism was returning for a four-day immersion into a crisis on the streets – homelessness in Los Angeles.
For the second consecutive year during the Thanksgiving holiday season, a select group of St. Thomas senior scholars was inspired with an appreciation for all the many blessings life has bestowed on them. Instead of flooding stores and retail websites on America’s so-called Black Friday to grab never-say-die deals in the spirit of materialism, the St. Thomas contingent – William Bone, Holt Brickley, Samuel Brooks, Benjamin Brown, Lyle Clanton, Miles Dominey, Cooper Drinkard, Luke Gilbert-Smith, Owen Hartley, Theodore Pastorius, Adrian Pruneda, Ricardo Requena, Thomas Roberson, Michael Rodriguez, Kyle Scheffler, Billy Theroux, Benjamin Tran, Stephen Visintine, and Jake Wakil along with Hernandez and dean of theology Andrew Quittenton – contributed to something much larger than themselves.
Mission of Redemption
The venture fuels Hernandez and his passion for creating an understanding and empathy for the street population and squalor often hidden in plain sight. He enterprized the student-driven participation in conjunction with his Social Justice curriculum. The sojourn through Skid Row, Homeboy Industries, and the Los Angeles Mission provided riveting accounts of the raw reality evident every day – unsheltered people, often suffering from abandonment, mental illness, drug addiction, struggling to stay safe and stay alive.
Homeboy Industries was founded by Fr. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest with more than three decades of ministry to gang members in Los Angeles. The local saint of unconditional compassion stokes a mission of redemption and the largest gang intervention and re-entry program in the United States. His vision has morphed into a series of businesses including a restaurant, a bakery, a cafe, and farmers’ markets created to provide optimism, training, and support to previously incarcerated and gang-involved men and women.
Hernandez is driven by Fr. Boyle’s genuine concerns and actions to create lasting solutions to gang violence – people reinventing their lives in forward-thinking, social enterprise endeavors. His book Tattoos on the Heart honed on his work in the ghetto and a breathtaking series of parables galvanized by his faith is a staple in Hernandez’s Social Justice teachings.
During the 2021 academic year, the St. Thomas community engaged in Fr. Boyle’s compelling testimony and riveting example of dedication to God through service to others. He delivered a stirring talk, first to Eagle students, faculty, and staff, and later to St. Thomas parents and supporters, hoping that the interaction and dialogue would invigorate and inspire the school’s collective spirit to provide relief wherever they may encounter deprivation.
Nourishing Body and Soul
The students’ daily 4:00 a.m. alarms signaled the start of preparing breakfast at the Dolores Mission Church and serving low-income families in Fr. Boyle’s East Los Angeles neighborhood.
Hernandez and his students also met with Craig Mitchell, an 18-year Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge who founded the Skid Row Running Club. This nonprofit organization provides a support system for people recovering from addiction and homelessness in the Los Angeles Skid Row neighborhood. Judge Mitchell’s message: “Don’t sell out to just making money. If you’re not living for others, you’re not really living. What profit is there in gaining the whole world only to lose your souls.”
Creativity and Compassion
Earlier in the 2023 fall semester, Hernandez and director of student life Joe O’Brien organized and executed a series of student-led participation at Martha’s Soup Kitchen and Loaves & Fishes Soup Kitchen. The efforts helped provide an interdisciplinary look at poverty to understand the forces that maintain it and the forces that resist it.
“Students can be presented with a high volume of facts and textbook examples of poverty but what they experience firsthand is much more powerful,” Hernandez says. “I wanted that practical component outside the classroom.”
Martha’s Kitchen was founded in 2002 by St. Martha Catholic Church in Kingwood. The ministry serves the Second Ward in the city’s East End. Sister Carmen Sanchez assumed the director position in January 2019 and collaborates with a mix of full-time employees and 20-plus volunteers who prepare and serve meals each Monday through Friday, as well as providing grocery programs.
The unsheltered population is drawn to Martha’s Kitchen, the same as to Loaves & Fishes, desiring basic needs or a fast lunch. Students quickly discovered that within extensive urban redevelopment and the burgeoning high-quality, mixed-use environment is a view on the streets telling a different story.
“The students accepted the involvement without judgment,” Hernandez says. “The mission was to feed the hungry, no questions asked. You come. We will feed you regardless of the circumstances.”
Giving without seeking reward.
Embracing a personal responsibility of each individual, based on talents and gifts, to contribute to the common good.
At the same time, promoting a culture of social justice that can flourish when society removes barriers so that each person can contribute fully to the betterment of that society.
Champions For Change
Hernandez was introduced to Fishes & Loaves during his sophomore year as a St. Thomas student. As that and similar connections continue, he has seized the responsibility that institutions of higher education have to better the human condition of all people.
Previously, Hernandez teamed with Eagle fathers Rafael Garcia and Ed Cordes as the driving forces in leading St. Thomas students representing diverse religious backgrounds to aid the under-served in Honduras.
“For me, service is such an important element in building young men of good character,” Hernandez says. “This is proactive goodness in (the Basilian credo) Teach Me Goodness, Discipline, and Knowledge. Applying that context outside the classroom is essential. At the end of the day, these students are seeking opportunities to give back, and to do good in their communities. The best I can do as a teacher is help provide that chance.”
Hernandez is boldly extending the St. Thomas legacy of service, appealing to his senior scholars through activism, volunteerism, and community-based learning.
Embracing a personal responsibility for each individual, based on talents and gifts, to contribute to the common good. And at the same time, promoting a culture of social justice that can flourish when society removes barriers so that each person can contribute fully to the betterment of that society.
Human dignity. A call to family.
Catholic. Basilian. Teaching Goodness, Discipline and Knowledge since 1900.