It began with a few calls from concerned parents anxious over stories their children were bringing home from school.
"We've had complaints about kids being assaulted in bathrooms, having their money taken or getting beat up," said Arturo Ybarra, president of the Watts/Century Latino Organization.
That was all Ybarra needed to hear to spur him to action. He and the organization quickly put together a program to defuse tensions between Latino and African American youths and their parents through conflict-resolution classes.
After securing a $10,000 grant from the California Community Foundation in November, the organization began recruiting students from area schools, including Jordan High School and Markham Middle School, to take part in the Watts Community Bridges Project.
Students and parents are taking part in a series of biweekly workshops beginning Saturday. The classes will identify sources of tension in the community and offer community organizing strategies and techniques to defuse conflicts.
Ybarra said the goal is to help both communities identify problems they share and help them develop skills to address them.
"These situations are mostly provoked by misunderstandings or individual conflicts, rather than racial problems," he said.
Among the groups called in to help with the program is the Multicultural Collaborative, a coalition of 12 service organizations that work with the Latino, African American and Asian communities in South-Central and Watts. The collaborative is providing technical assistance to the Watts Community Bridges project.
"The schools often do little to teach groups about each others' culture," said Ruben Lizardo, co-director of the organization. "We think this is an example of black and brown parents and students wanting to sit down as a collective."
The program is scheduled to end July 16, but organizers are optimistic that the benefits will outlast the life of the program.
"I think that when these ethnic communities interact, that will lead to resources," said Charles McDuffie, who is working with Ybarra on the project. "When you have a group of people that are united, then the resources will follow."
Information: (213) 564-9140.