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VOF Month 1: (Lessons in Conflict Resolution)

Dissolving racial conflict between the Black and Latino communities in Los Angeles County.

The tensions between populations of African-American and of Mexican descent in Rialto, California have been growing for some time. Schools are locked down for one to two days every time violence erupts between these two groups, creating long-term disadvantages to all members of the community. A small fight will frequently escalate into a race riot if the youth involved are separated along ethnic lines. This conflict tragically culminated in two race-related murders in Los Angeles County recently.

Jameelah Medina, a dedicated educator and social justice advocate living and working on the east side of LA, designed a new project that brings at-risk Latino and Black youth together in lessons on their shared heritage. For many students, already on probation for their violent behaviour, the program offers an alternative to the usual suspension or expulsion from school. Other students, exhibiting the first signs of risky behaviour, are redirected before fatal conflict erupts.

Jameelah’s program model offers effective solutions for communities dealing with violent youth and racial hatred but also carries interesting potential for interracial and cultural conflict resolution in many other communities around the world.

The Breaking Bread Project, Rialto California 2009-2010

1. Highlighting Participants: School officials, teachers, administrators and counsellors nominate individuals exhibiting signs of risky behaviour or engaging in violent race-related and/or gang related activities.
2. Creating Safe Meeting Space: 25 students of African American descent and 25 students of Latino Mexican descent, attend an after-school program twice a week for a 14 month period.
3. Restoring “lost” connections to cultural heritage: Many members of the Latino and Black sectors of the LA community have been disassociated from their cultural roots, either by immigration, poverty or the belief that there isn’t anything positive about their roots of ancestral origin. The first part of this program addresses this gap by teaching all students about their cultural heritage, their shared ancestral connections and presents both groups with positive heroes and role models to aspire to.
4. Building self-confidence by sharing knowledge: Students learn leadership, presentation and public speaking skills through guided sharing of their cultural history with other members of the group.
5. Building trust, respect and an understanding of each other: The group is then taught about their shared heritage and points of solidarity through performance, community theatre, and a structured reading program.
6. Building trust, respect and a sense of belonging to the community: Group members interview a parent, neighbour or elder in the community. The group invites all Interviewees, school officials and other locals to the ‘teen summit’ to show their community how far they have come.
7. Celebrating their shared culture and heritage: The end of the program culminates in an African tour of Mexico; an 8-10 day excursion displaying the African roots and culture in Mexico.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.

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