Leaders Empowering Teens United for Peace began at San Pedro High School in February 2000 after a local teen was murdered through gang violence. This tragic incident caused tensions in the school and community, particularly between African American and Latino youth. Parents feared for their child's safety and a community meeting produced a crowd of over 400 concerned parents, students, and agency leaders. When campus tensions were at their height, Dr. Windy Warren offered to mediate between the gang-affiliated African American and Latino male groups. Though the youths were at first reluctant, a series of weekly meetings created a safe place to vent and the peace efforts were swiftly felt all over campus. Differences were put aside and focus was placed on common goals of wanting to graduate and make positive choices in their lives. Critical to this change were the willingness and peer influence of Abel and Marquis, the Latino and African American leaders of the two groups.
By May 2000, both voiced a weariness of being categorized as a gang group and wanted to open up the peace-keeping efforts to students of other races and cultures. By the end of Fall 2001, hand-picked male and female peer leaders of Caucasian, Asian, and Pacific Islander descent were added to the group. From gang affiliates to punk rockers to sports jocks to high achievers; fear, anger and racism dissipated to unity and even friendship. Principal Stephen Walters, a rally for the cause, observed the transformation and declared, "These student leaders have more power to influence their peers than any of us adults."
As the group evolved and peer relations dramatically improved, the Los Angeles Police Department, Harbor Division's Captain Smith and Lieutenant Fletcher joined the effort in monthly meetings to mend relations between youth and authority figures. Students who were reluctant to enter a room with an officer, left at the end of the hour shaking hands and planning for future meetings. This youth/authority relationship building was also felt on campus through collaborative efforts between administration and students.
LetUP Leadership continues to evolve as student needs and campus atmosphere evolve, though always with a vision of multicultural unity and leadership development. Its original impact on a handful of struggling students has had lasting effects on individuals, the campus, and community as a whole because "when a natural leader changes, it has a positive ripple effect on others. It is a change created from within, rather than forced upon from without. It is a change that has powerful lasting effect."
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