In reaction to recent gang- related shootings and activities, local Latino youth have banded together to form a group to spark community involvement that's creative, not destructive.

In reaction to recent gang- related shootings and activities, local Latino youth have banded together to form a group to spark community involvement that's creative, not destructive.

Razas Unidas (Races United) meets twice weekly and members come from junior high and high schools all over the Rogue Valley.

Among the newly formed group's first efforts was making a plea to the Medford City Council on Thursday to proclaim March 31 César Chávez Day — and the council did.

The group also has organized a celebration of Chávez's life on March 31.

Chávez was a Mexican-American farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist who helped found the United Farm Workers in a farm town north of Bakersfield, Calif. He was born March 31, 1927, and died April 23, 1993.

Katey Robinson, who works for migrant education and is the group's advisor, said they had their first meeting March 14.

"On that first night we got together, we talked about the problems the students thought they faced," she said. Out of that discussion came a list of community activities they want to pursue, ranging from pulling weeds in parks and a car wash to alley clean-ups and painting over graffiti.

Kathy Keesee, community organizer with UNETE, a local farmworker advocacy group, said the students wanted to do productive activities partly in reaction to the increasing gang activity in the area. The youth group started with a couple of teen volunteers at UNETE, but after sending fliers to the schools and word getting out, dozens of students are coming to the meetings, she said, adding that students don't have to be Latino to join.

The group has about 30 members from middle schools and schools in Medford, Eagle Point, Central Point, Ashland and Phoenix.

The youth group meets from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and 4 to 7 p.m. Friday in the basement of the First United Methodist Church, 607 W. Main St. in Medford. For more information, call 245-1625.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.