Civic Imagination

Freedom Writers: Bridging Racial Divides Through Writing

Freedom Writers (the movie) is based on a true story of a school in Long Beach, California. The main character, Erin Gruwell, is a new teacher at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School and placed with the students who are considered at-risk and unteachable. These students were almost entirely comprised of minorities, with the exception of one student. With such a diverse class and a group of students who had no apparent desire to learn, the film explores the real-world challenges that Gruwell faced trying to get her students to come to class wanting to learn, if they would even want to come to their classes at all. The class divides itself based on race, and fights and arguments breakout regularly. The class later finds common ground on their feelings and discussions around The Holocaust. Her students become inspired to break free from the things that originally divided them, most notably with one character speaking out against someone who she was being forced to lie for during a trial. She tasked her students with writing in a diary and then compiled those journals and writings into a collection of them all in “The Freedom Writers Diary.”

I have been interested in writing for my entire life and always saw it as an opportunity to connect with people who I would not normally connect with. I was apart of poetry clubs throughout middle and high school and am a part of a smaller workshop group in college. Poetry brings people from all walks of life into a shared space where they are free to explain their experiences through words. By listening and reading other’s poetry works, I have been able to understand a little bit better what others may be going through even if I have not been through it on my own. The first time I watched the movie and heard about the story was during a writing workshop class I took in the sixth grade. My professor wanted us to be able to break down our barriers and give way to our experiences, not matter how raw, and write them down. This movie was a perfect segue and inspiration piece to open our eyes to the sheer power that writing can have on us. To this day, the movie still resonates with me because it has inspired me to want to spread writing, which is something that my friends never quite got into like me and never were able to get all of its benefits. I tell everyone I know to watch this movie and learn about the story behind it. I went to school is a very diverse community. With that are many positives, but can also come issues that arise from people who feel that they cannot connect. The classes that have impacted me the most in terms of opening my eyes to different communities and ways of life have been my writing classes, and I can appreciate the tremendous amount of work that Gruwell went through in order to open people up. Although we may write in different languages, we can connect through shared experiences. 

This story can inspire students to become more engaged with their education, no matter where they are from or what they are currently going through. In addition, this story can inspire educators to be more than just teachers to their students. Gruwell was so impactful because she was more than a teacher and wanted to change lives. The story sparked the creation of the Freedom Writers Foundation, which aims to aid teachers in training, creating curriculum, scholarships, and outreach programs. This story is very relevant to really any community with a diverse body of students. We often feel that we have no connections to others, which is what can cause so many divides between students, but if we can find that there are some things that we have in common, we can bridge those divides. 

Freedom Writers Foundation website:
Freedom Writers IMDB:
Image from movie:
Image of Book:

Freedom Writers, Writing, Race, Erin Gruwell, race relations

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