The Freedom Writers Foundation helps promote tolerance and love through writing
"I asked them, 'How many of you have been shot at?' and at that moment all the kids raise their hands. Whether or not it was true, they had this bonding moment where they were pulling up their shirts and showing where they'd been knifed, and showing where they'd been hit." - Erin Gruwell, Founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation, for the Be Heard Youtube Video Series, December 2006
Schoolteacher Erin Gruwell founded the Freedom Writers Foundation in 1997. The base of this foundation has its roots in the 1993 riots in Long Beach, California, which brought out the ugly and still prevalent side of racism and intolerance. After witnessing an incident of racism in her classroom, Gruwell made it her life’s mission to teach young people about love, and tolerance, and to help them realize their life’s ambitions through personal journaling. What began inside a single classroom at the Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, California, soon spread to other schools, and is now part of their regular curriculums. Gruwell made the effort to educate her student about the negative impact of racism in various ways; she took them on a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance, a Holocaust Museum where they learned about how racism nearly wiped out an entire race of human beings. Personal interactions with Holocaust survivors such as Miep Gies, who shielded Anne Frank, and Zlata Filipovic, a Sarajevo war survivor who chronicled her life in a diary, helped dissuade the students from gang violence and hatred.
The result of Gruwell’s emotional investment in her previously gang-affiliated students was that each of her 150 students graduated and received scholarships for college.
Today a number of Gruwell’s students are Freedom Writers, a name chosen with respect to the Freedom Riders, who were civil rights activists. They have created a teaching programme, which not only reaches out to students, but also trains teachers on how to channel the passion of their students in a constructive direction, and regularly host online discussions where teaching and learning strategies are discussed. The foundation follows Gruwell’s hands-on approach and encourages students to reach their full potential, often helping them through scholarships and mentoring.
Millions of students have benefited from the Foundation and its unique, interactive teaching methodology. Funds are raised through book and DVD sales, and also from fees collected from online courses, which are available for teachers and facilitators. A book and film have been made about founder Erin Gruwell and her students, which have received critical acclaim, and have encouraged students and teachers to take on the Freedom Writers methodology as part of their learning processes.
What makes the Freedom Writers Foundation so unique is its ability to facilitate self-introspection and a willingness to unlearn destructive behaviors. Unlike educational foundations which tend to place emphasis on “bookish” learning, the Freedom Writers Foundation methodology encourages personal growth and the desire to develop emotionally as well as in context with general knowledge. The fact that the methodology worked for 150 mixed race students who once propagated “gang life” over education and transformed them into motivational individuals, is testimony to it’s effectiveness and ability and teaching more students about love, growth, and tolerance.