I recently attended a Volunteer Ministry Center fundraiser where the keynote speaker was Ms. Erin Gruwell. Ms. Gruwell is the author of the critically acclaimed book The Freedom Writers Diary which documents a group of seemingly unteachable at-risk students that she had taught in her first year at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. These students had been declared failures by the school system and had been separated from higher achieving students as it was believed they were incapable of learning.
It’s always inspiring whenever I hear or read stories about a phenomenonal person’s cutting-edge action to better humanity. Ms. Gruwell is just this kind of person. She is someone who motivated 150 teenage students to become writers in her English class. With her unconventional teaching methods, she had the courage to teach students using Anne Frank’s book The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic to inspire her students to undergo a “life-changing, eye-opening, spirit-raising” venture against intolerance and misunderstanding.
Her students learned to understand the parallels to their own lives in these books, and they recorded their thoughts and feelings in their own diaries. They called themselves the “Freedom Writers” to give homage to the civil rights activists the “Freedom Riders” during the days of the civil rights movement.
One of LHP’s core values is courageous. Listed below the word are five attributes. However, it is the fifth attribute that captures the essence of Ms. Gruwell’s courage: “Do the right thing.” She could have chosen to take the position of the other teachers which was that the students were incapable of learning. But rather, she took the road less travelled and chose to do something different, something memorable, something powerful and humane.
She chose not to do things the easy way, the way they had always been done. The success of her work has had an impact on teachers around the world. A movie has been made telling her story about the transformation of these 150 teenage students’ lives…beyond high school and beyond college.
Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!
By Chaplain Ghosten