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Bigger Picture Hits Small Screen

September 28, 2000 | 8:00 pm

A new cultural awareness program is about to make a lot of waves - as in airwaves.

Sponsored by the Santa Monica Bay Region of the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), the Black/Brown Leadership Training, which brought together 15 Latino and African-American teens, was filmed for a Fox News television special, "Black and Brown: When Colors Collide," airing tonight. The television special will focus on this exchange between the two groups on issues of cultural identity and racial diversity.

Founded in 1927, the NCCJ - originally the National Conference of Christians and Jews - is a human relations organization dedicated to fighting bigotry and promoting diversity through educational programs. The NCCJ's goal with the Black/Brown Leadership Training is to encourage youth to become future community leaders through a host of skill-building projects. Aashish Parekh, program director at the Santa Monica NCCJ chapter, told The Journal that the program's genesis was a reaction to racial tension and violence that plagued Santa Monica's lower-income Pico neighborhood two years ago. Santa Monica High School counselor Oscar De La Torre was a driving force behind the program, made possible by a Kellogg grant.

Currently, the Santa Monica-based NCCJ branch is searching for funding for phase two of the program, which will send the teenagers to Israel, where they will spend six weeks living on a kibbutz. Parekh feels that the teens will glean important skills "living in an environment where it's a collective community; where in order to succeed and survive they must all work together."

Parekh believes that the chance for the teens "to meet Israeli and Palestinian kids with similar conflicts and to realize that, hey, wow, other kids are going through the same things as we are" will be invaluable. And he knows that the follow-up phase will be crucial to expanding the participants' understanding of the world at large. After all, these teens have never left their own neighborhoods, let alone traveled abroad.

The National Conference for Community and Justice's television special airs on Fox Television Channel 11 on Fri., Sept. 29, at 10:30 p.m. For more information on the Santa Monica Bay Area region of the NCCJ and its programs, contact the branch's executive director, DeBorah "Sunni" Smith, at (310) 264-1717. You can also visit the NCCJ Web site atwww.nccj.org

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