Hillary Swank played Erin Gruwell in the movie version titled Freedom Writers. Gruwell comes to Metro Vancouver to speak to students and teachers.
A naive and idealistic brand new teacher
in Room 203 at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, was given her first class. The students were not interested in giving the teacher any respect, and they comprised a volatile racially-diverse mix of African-American, Latino,
Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Caucasian students, many of whom had grown
up in rough neighborhoods in Long Beach.
But the teacher, Erin Gruwell found ways to reach them, and their class project became a book, that became a movie. The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them even sparked interest from Oprah and Barbara Walters.
I watched the movie a few weeks ago, and was amazed at the movie. The students grow up surrounded by violence, and with gang mentality. They are always on the verge of racial wars with each different ethnic group. The African-Americans feel intruded upon by the new arrivals such as the Cambodian or Vietnamese students. And the Latinos are also claiming and protecting their turf too.
This could be Vancouver, a city celebrated for its racial and ethnic diversity and harmony. This could be Vancouver where in January 2008, a 15 year old Filipino student was stabbed to death. http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2008/01/28/bc-daisy.html
Racism has also been a factor in other teenage deaths and incidents such as the Reena Virk murder in Victoria BC.
But Freedom Writers is a wonderful positive story of triumph over personal adversity. The students learn that they have more in common than they realized. They learn that each ethnic group shares the same fears, hopes and struggles. She assigns them the book, Diary of Anne Frank to read. And the students relate to the young Anne, who has to hide from Nazi oppression.
It is a story that could happen in Vancouver. Erin Gruwell gives a talk at River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond BC. She was invited by King David high school executive director Dan Shmilovitch after he saw the film last February.
Read the Vancouver Sun story by Chantal Eustace
From written off to Freedom Writers