Nothing could have prepared Erin Gruwell for her first day teaching at Long Beach High School. Many of her students from this tough, racially divided school were deemed “unteachable,” and written off by the education system. Shaken, but undeterred, Gruwell leveraged the power of education to deliver an academic miracle.
Finding her classroom a safe haven, the Freedom Writers transcribed their stories on paper, transforming their lives one word at a time. Through Gruwell’s efforts, these stories were published in the book Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them. Her enthusiasm and fierce determination galvanized her class, and eventually all 150 of her students went on to graduate from high school and attend college.
Now, Gruwell’s story has made it to the big screen, as she is portrayed by Academy Award winner Hilary Swank in Paramount Picture’s feature film, Freedom Writers. “In the beginning I was pretty naïve and did not know a lot about at-risk teens. I knew I could see past color and culture, but I did not know how to get to the hearts of these young people. So I gave them a pen and told them to share their experiences through the art of writing. Through writing, my students discovered tolerance and respect for one another.”
Honored by many teaching and humanitarian awards, Gruwell founded the Erin Gruwell Education Project dedicated to promoting tolerance and innovative educational methods. Creating the “Ambassadors of Tolerance Tour,” Gruwell enriched the lives of her students with lessons of history, taking the Freedom Writers to visit Auschwitz in Poland, Anne Frank’s attic in Amsterdam, and war-torn Sarajevo. Chronicled by Academy Award-winning filmmakers, the story of their journey is currently being made into a documentary. The film is based on the experiences of this extraordinary teacher and her students.
Becoming A Catalyst For Change
Nurturing the Leader Within