Although examples of high levels of cooperation between the two groups are everywhere, there is no question that there is tension between African Americans and Latinos in Los Angeles. From the fights in county jails that spill out into the neighborhoods to the jockeying for leadership roles in government and private industry, the evidence is irrefutable.

But to Jamal Speakes–drama instructor at Dorsey High School, which has seen its student population shift from Caucasian to African American and Japanese American to its current 54-45 percent African American/Latino split–the friction is “crazy.”

“In Philadelphia, where I’m from, we have blacks and Puerto Ricans. We live with them, date them, and get along. I come out here and see the racial divide, and it’s really crazy. Some of my students are being murdered from gang violence or being ostracized for liking somebody other than their own race.”

Speakes has also noted from speaking to his students who often have uncles, fathers, and even granddads incarcerated, that the fights and unrest seen on the news in places like San Quentin and Folsom often find their way out onto the streets a few days or weeks later.

Jamal said the situation compelled him to try to do his part to change the situation.

Consequently, he spent last summer writing a play that explores the issue.

“It’s the 2008 Westside Story,” said Speakes who pounded out the stage play in a month, and brought it back to his principal ready for staging.

“My goal was to put it up as my spring production, and my ultimate goal is to take it professionally to Broadway or somewhere locally in Los Angeles,” Speakes said. His even broader agenda is to tap into the one audience he feels has been missed by theater producers–teens.

The production, call Phi’La (pronounced fee-la): The Musical!” which will be the first show performed in the school’s newly renovated $1 million Montgomery Auditorium (now called the ICMB Performing Arts Center), features English and Spanish music, including hip hop and R&B. It is the story of Kahlil (the college-bound son of a well-to-do African American family) who comes to Los Angeles from the East Coast, and Katrina, who will be the first in her blue-collar family to attempt to attend college.

Their growing love for one another is battered by the rivalry between their respective brothers, racism from Katrina’s family, and classism on the part of Kahlil’s parents. A confrontation between the two families has cataclysmic results and leaves the audience to ponder the sense of such superficial conflicts.

Speakes has used his entertainment connections (he is an actor on the side with a number of appearances on the daytime television drama Days of Our Lives under his belt, and his wife is also a thespian), to pull in people like Lindsey Walker (daughter of singer Brenda Russell) to write some of the songs.

But the Philadelphia transplant is not stopping there. On the opening night of the show, May 16, he and his cast and crew of about 30 students and Hollywood friends will roll out the red carpet and bring Hollywood to South Los Angeles.

“Platinum Heaven Productions is sponsoring the whole situation and Joceyln Polite (one of our counselors) and Sean Holland (of Clueless) will host the red carpet and interview people as they come up,” Speakes explained.

Phi’La: The Musical! appears on stage Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for previews; Friday at 7 p.m. with the red carpet set for 6 p.m.; Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $5 with a student identification and $10 day of the show.

For additional information, call Dorsey High School at (323) 298-8400.