The much-lauded PBS children's series "Reading Rainbow" gets serious tonight in an unusually effective edition called "LeVar Burton Presents: Act Against Violence--A Family Special."
The hourlong, documentary-style program, tied into public television's ongoing "Act Against Violence" campaign, is a departure from the series' usual literacy-oriented format. With its themes of how adults can make a difference in children's lives and how children can find alternatives to violence, the show is aimed at both young and old.
Listen as young children, living in an area of Los Angeles synonymous in the public consciousness with drugs, gangs and guns, try to understand the world into which they were born.
Listen, too, to some of those adults striving to give children the strength to survive and grow through perilous times, people who work and live in the South-Central community of Watts--a place where people do raise families and do go to work, to churches, libraries and schools.
Jose Varela, a former gangbanger, now a respected Watts schoolteacher, proves an inspiration for at-risk children. Members of Teens on Target, an organization of reformed gang members--gunshot victims in wheelchairs--give gut-wrenching testimony about the price they are paying for the violence in their lives.
A teen-age girl befriends younger children after turning her grim life around through Colors United, a performing arts group. And a remarkable church reaches out to young men and to single teen-age mothers to empower them with a sense of tradition and belonging.
The show begins and ends with the poetic eloquence of the Watts Prophets and memorable montages of area children. The more usual "Reading Rainbow" format is found in several reviews by children of family- and community-related books.
* "LeVar Burton Presents: Act Against Violence--A Family Special" airs at 8 tonight and again Sunday at 6 p.m. on KCET-TV Channel 28 .