Teacher and Motivational Speaker (Inspired the film Freedom Writers)
Erin Gruwell began teaching inner city students in 1994 at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, CA. During a lesson, derogatory words were exchanged between students; Gruwell stepped in comparing the derogatory words to the Holocaust. Surprisingly, some of the students didn’t know what the Holocaust was. From then on she made it her mission to change the lives of these children. She purchased books using her own money and gave students books to keep. In order to further understand the students’ situations, Gruwell decided to use writing as an outlet. The students wrote life journals, their entries were shared unanimously in class for discussion and reflection.
Gruwell made several sacrifices in her life to make sure the kids were successful. Even her marriage was a sacrifice because her husband didn’t support her involvement with the students; they soon divorced. However, Gruwell has said that watching all the kids graduate made everything worth it. Gruwell’s story was made into a major motion film called Freedom Writers and she was portrayed by Hillary Swank. Now as a motivational speaker and founder of Freedom Writers Foundation, Gruwell still empowers students and teachers to become their own Freedom Writers.