The Freedom Writers Diary
I love reading inspirational stories which provoke you to think and motivate you to excel. One such story is The Freedom Writers Diary, which is an amazing story of achievement, courage and strength in the face of adversity. Let’s go back in time. The year is 1997. In Room 203 at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, a determined 24-year old teacher named Erin Gruwell stood bravely in front of her first student group. This bunch of students was dubbed as “at-risk, unteachable” teenagers by the administration. It was her first encounter with such a group.
The Grim Reality!
The group of students took bets on how long their new teacher could “endure” them and stay in their classroom. But, a pivotal event changed their lives forever.
An African American student circulated a racial caricature in the classroom. This angered Erin and she compared the drawing to a Nazi mocking of Jews during the Holocaust.
To her sheer wonder, all the students gave her puzzled looks. She was appalled to discover that not even a single student knew the history of the Holocaust and its treacherous events. But, when she asked them if they had ever been shot at, all of them raised their hands. Then, each one of them started talking about their battle-scars which shocked Erin even more.
Igniting the Young Minds!
Erin Gruwell had definitely touched a raw nerve. She chose to run with it. After discovering that her students were all too familiar with harsh and violent realities, she introduced them to Zlata’s Diary:A Child’s Life in Sarajevo and Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Hesitant to read the strange books, the students of Room 203 soon began to draw parallels with the lives of Zlata and Anne – young teens also surrounded by harsh conditions – and could not believe the fact that they had intense connections with the stories.
Each student started to maintain his/her anonymous diary which recorded their daily events – struggles with mental and physical abuse, tormenting events of drug use, reaction to Erin and her unconventional methods of teaching. The final results were the base of a life-changing, spiritually enriched journey which started with a symbolic “toast for change”. That has not stopped ever since.
Initiation of the Freedom Writers!
From the very moment they called themselves the “Freedom Writers,” the students of Room 203 transformed from a bunch of apathetic delinquents to a motivated, closely knit family with Erin Gruwell as their mentor. The students worked extremely hard to practice their first influences which they noted down in their journals.They successfully raised funds from a “Read-a-thon for Tolerance” initiated by Erin, apart from various moonlighting jobs which Erin worked, for arranging for Miep Gies to visit them in California. Miep was the courageous Dutch woman who bravely gave shelter to the Frank family.
Later, Zlata Filipovic positively responded to the Freedom Writers’ invitation to Long Beach. She spent five days with the ingenious minds, allowing them to compare notes with her. This event reinforced the belief in Freedom Writers that voices are actually heard, change can be made and a huge difference can be bought about merely through the power of words.
The Success Story!
The Freedom Writers have successfully spread their message and story around the world. They bravely held a fund-raising concert, “Echoes of the Soul” in 1997 to visit Washington, D.C., where they presented their journal to Richard Riley, Secretary of education Board. They also visited the Holocaust Museum. This visit allowed them to follow their heroes, the Freedom Riders, by holding a prayer vigil and peace march for victims of intolerance.
The Freedom Writers won the Spirit of Anne Frank Award in 1998. They went to New York to accept the award. The most important fact is that all the 150 Freedom Writers have successfully completed their college.
Think about it – students who were inflicted with pain and violence and reluctant to learn anything went ahead and made a remarkable difference. One woman who had the courage of conviction and hope to bring a change in the lives of her students. This is the story of the Freedom Writers and their guide and philosopher, Erin Gruwell.