Group Splits on Racial Lines

Brittany Levine, Orange County Register, May 17, 2010

Young Life is a religious group that tries to keep teenagers out of trouble. But to do that in a city like San Clemente, where group leaders say teens seem to be more comfortable in their own demographic clusters, the groups are separated along racial lines.

Young Life has been in San Clemente for two decades, but three years ago it began a downtown chapter to focus primarily on Latino teens, a population that wasn’t joining the original group based at San Clemente High School. Young Life leaders say their group, which has hundreds of chapters worldwide and focuses on connecting adolescents to Jesus, is separated in San Clemente because they want teens to feel comfortable. Having a single chapter may discourage one demographic from joining, leaders say.

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At a recent Young Life pancake breakfast at Max Berg Plaza Park, some students said the nonprofit has changed their lives by steering them away from bad choices. But many said they wish the two chapters didn’t have to be separated.

“There’s Hispanics, then there’s white people,” said Saul Bonea, who was a Young Life member before graduating from high school last year. “I mean, if everybody came because everybody is a child of God, that’s good. But there’s still race stuff in existence, and it always gets us in trouble.”

By trouble, the 19-year-old, who wants to work in ministry, meant fights. Teens said there have long been tensions among certain cliques at the high school, some of which are divided along racial lines. Group leaders say they were aware of those tensions and that’s why they thought it would be best to make a new chapter. Last school year, San Clemente High enrollment was 73 percent white and 19 percent Latino, according to Capistrano Unified School District data.

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Thrash said it is not uncommon for Young Life to have a downtown group and a suburban group in the same city.

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While many teens echoed Mota’s enthusiasm, several said they’d prefer if everyone could just get along. The two groups have mixers such as beach bonfires about every five weeks, but usually they are awkward, some youths said.

“I would rather have it all together. There should be no separation between the races,” said Francisco Martinez, 17. {snip}

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Young Life leaders say San Clemente’s two groups eventually will merge, but it may take some time.

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