You may remember the Hillary Swank film, “The Freedom Writers” (which was adapted from Erin Gruwell’s book “The Freedom Writers’ Diary) recounting how an idealistic young teacher connected with a racially polarized Long Beach class by teaching tolerance and getting them to communicate about the conflicts around them. Soon they were reaching out to students in conflict zones across the world.
The amazing story does not just end with Gruwell seeing the class through the graduation. Sunday I went to a reception celebrating the tenth-anniversary of the film and met several of her real life students depicted in the film. The celebration, however, was not an act of nostalgia but a testament to what has been achieved since then.
The students from her very first class are now adults with families but remain connected to Gruwell by participating in her continued work through the Freedom Writers Foundation. Gruwell is working with teachers across the world to replicate what she achieved in Long Beach and this weekend will be hosting her second delegation of teachers from Israel and Palestine. Gruwell and her Freedom Writers also have traveled into conflict zones in the Middle East and recently went to the school attended by the perpetrators of the June London Bridge attack. Gruwell and her former students both gave moving accounts of how they have worked to bridge divides.