Since Jose Meza turned down an offer to join a gang, friends have been hard to find.
That's why Meza, 17, said he has his own reasons for looking forward to the first West Valley Spring Summit at Chatsworth High School next week, a conference aimed both at bringing together teen-agers who want to work to prevent violence and to promote good race relations at their high schools.
"It's so hard to find kids like that," said Meza, a senior at Granada Hills High School.
Meza said his old friends pay him little heed when he talks of his reasons for shunning gang life. Some view him as prudish, he said. But he's hoping the summit, besides teaching tactics for conflict resolution, will also give him a chance to talk honestly with like-minded peers about the pressures of high school life.
The summit, scheduled for next Friday, will bring together about 200 students selected from Chatsworth, Canoga Park, Cleveland, Granada Hills, El Camino Real and Pacific Palisades high schools, and Sun Valley, Millikan and Pacoima middle schools, for all-day workshops. Topics will include racial tensions, drug and alcohol use, and gender and relationship issues.
The purpose is to help students become leaders in conflict resolution--not just at school, but at parties and shopping malls were youngsters congregate, said Joan Lewis, coordinator for Granada Hills High School's IMPACT program, a federally funded drug-awareness program. IMPACT coordinators at each high school organized the summit and selected the students who will participate.
"We realized we are in a community, we are not just an isolated pocket," Lewis said. "These kids will bump into each other outside school. We hope this will help them have some understanding if things start happening."
Meza said he hopes to swap stories with students who, like himself, have been tempted by gang life and faced isolation when they resisted.
"It ain't easy," he said, adding that gang life, for all its problems, is "a way to feel secure, you don't want to feel left out."