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Series of Forums to Focus on Boosting Tolerance at Schools

May 06, 2003|Akilah Johnson | Times Staff Writer

City officials, human rights groups and religious leaders have joined forces to promote a new program fostering tolerance in the Los Angeles area, particularly at schools, organizers announced Monday.

As part of the campaign, local high schools will hold six of seven forums designed to create communitywide dialogue on diversity and tolerance. The sessions, titled "Confronting Hate Crimes and Hate Language," will feature a panel including Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and African Americans, along with representatives from the Los Angeles Police Department and civil rights organizations, to talk about reducing hate.

Since school is one of the places where members of Los Angeles' diverse communities regularly interact, officials say, neighborhood differences often show themselves on school grounds.

"You can have a lot of diversity, but you can also have a lot of resentment for each other," said Mayor James K. Hahn.

Hahn said he hopes the campaign will get people "to talk about the impact of hate, of prejudice, of stereotyping, of scapegoating."

Community issues, such as differences over economics, language and education, "are coming to a head at high schools," said Gary De La Rosa of the city Human Relations Commission, who often deals with issues of diversity at area schools.

Middle schools have become breeding grounds for hate-filled language and acts, he said -- thanks in large part to peer pressure that teaches students "how they're supposed to act in high school." As an example, De La Rosa cited Grant Senior High School in Van Nuys, where freshmen in the late 1990s inherited the ongoing conflict between Latino and Armenian students.

Officials hope students and others in the community will listen and share tales of hate and tolerance at the forums. The first forum is today at 6 p.m. at San Fernando High School.

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