They were basically strangers, but they expressed emotions that came from deep inside. Angry people lashed out at each other. Tears were shed.
But for Gardena resident Margaret Dacut, the volatile environment at a recent human relations training course proved to be one of the most positive, inspirational experiences of her life.
"People were free to express their emotions; they were crying and said, 'I'm angry at what's being said,' " Dacut, 38, said. "It stirred up tensions, but also allowed people the opportunity to speak openly and safely in an environment where they can do that."
Using games mixed with frank, personal and often emotional discussion, the human relations course offered by the National Conference of Christians and Jews attempts to teach community members to reduce prejudice and stereotyping.
The goal of the five-week program is to help people in management, guidance or leadership positions learn to intervene when racial or ethnic tensions arise.
Participants, who come from all over Southern California, meet one evening a week for four weeks at the National Conference's Downtown-area offices at 1055 Wilshire Blvd., and spend one weekend in a retreat at a Glendale camp. The program is offered every six months and costs $125, with financial aid available.