More than 400 parents, students and community leaders rallied at Crenshaw High School on Saturday in a unity event that took on added urgency after a student melee Friday at another South Los Angeles school.
The group formed a massive prayer circle on the school football field, joining hands with ministers and police officers in a sign of support for Crenshaw students. A local bishop led them in prayer.
"I want you to look around. I want you to get a picture of what you're seeing on this field . . . and I don't want you to forget it," said Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer of Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood. "I want you to see that you matter. I want you to see that we care."
The rally was spearheaded by the Los Angeles Urban League and its Neighborhood@Work initiative, launched last year to support the high school and neighborhood. Several teenagers at the event said they were impressed by the large showing.
"I didn't think there would be so many people. I feel like there are a lot of people who are into this community," said Melina Resto, 13, a student at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies who attended the rally with her cousin, Chanell Nealon, 16, a Crenshaw junior.
"It made me feel that people really care about this school," Chanell said.
The event was planned long before Friday's confrontation between rival Latino and black groups at Locke High School that grew to involve an estimated 600 students.
Some community leaders at Crenshaw High said Saturday that the melee underscored the need for adults to support young people, serve as role models and promote unity. The high school environment can be a world of rivalries, blue versus red, Crips versus Bloods, Ulmer said.
"Some of these kids get harassed for being here in school," he said. "This thing can be turned around, but it will take people who care."
Willis Edwards, a board member for the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said that he found the Locke melee "very painful" and that the community needs to reach out to Locke students.
"We need to all come together," Edwards said.
Crenshaw High has been one of the city's lowest-performing schools, losing its accreditation in 2005 and regaining it a year later.
The Urban League announced Neighborhood@ Work, a five-year, $25-million program aimed at improving the school and the surrounding 70-block neighborhood by focusing on public and private programs.
Urban League Chief Executive Blair Taylor spoke at the rally and said afterward that his group wants to move the school into the 21st century.
"Our goal is to make it one of the 10 or 15 best high schools in the next four or five years," he said. "Today was a reinforcement of all that. . . . We believe that when this high school turns, this community will turn."
Some students and parents said they felt heartened by the rally.
Iyabo Salimu, 44, of Baldwin Village has several children who attended Crenshaw. She said she joined the prayer circle "to heal -- to add to the healing."
Salimu's son, a freshman, chose Crenshaw over a private school, she said. "I'm really glad he's here, because I like Crenshaw. It has a lot of potential."