Freedom Writers founder to speak at VU

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September 15, 2017

VINCENNES, Ind. - Erin Gruwell, whose story was told in the 2007 movie "The Freedom Writers," will bring her motivational message to an audience of area high school seniors on Sept. 22 at Vincennes University’s Red Skelton Performing Arts Center. Gruwell’s appearance is sponsored by the VU Admissions Office and is a feature of VU’s annual College GO! Week observance.

In the movie, Gruwell, played by Hillary Swank, is a dedicated teacher in a racially divided Los Angeles school where her class of at-risk teenagers have been deemed incapable of learning.  Instead of giving up, she inspires her students to take an interest in their education and planning their future.  She assigns reading material that relates to their lives and encourages them all to keep journals. 

Topics that Gruwell will cover in her presentation include overcoming adversity, chasing your dreams, and not letting anyone or anything stand in your way.

College GO! Week is an annual event sponsored by Learn More Indiana with the goal of helping Hoosiers of all ages plan for college completion and career success.  Seniors from Vincennes Lincoln, Rivet, South Knox, and North Knox, high schools will attend the VU presentation.


Many of the students who entered Erin Gruwell’s freshman English class weren’t thinking about how to make it to graduation, but how they could make it to age 16. Racial and gang tension had peaked and a record 126 murders had occurred in Long Beach after the Los Angeles Riots. With the external stresses of a divided city, the students of Room 203 were not concerned with the education system that had already failed them on multiple occasions. Gruwell’s students had been written off as unteachable and below average.

Regardless of what her peers tried to tell her, Gruwell sought to engage her jaded students. She chose, instead, to listen to what they had to say and saw beyond the stigma of their low test scores. She brought in literature written by teenagers who looked and talked like them, who faced struggles just like theirs. The students soon realized that if they could relate to the complete strangers in their books, they could certainly relate to one another.

They started to form a diverse family, accepting of all, that they named the “Freedom Writers” after the 1960s Civil Rights activists, the Freedom Riders. In this newly formed safe space, the Freedom Writers began writing anonymous journal entries about the adversity they faced. They felt free to write about gang violence, abuse, drugs, love, and everything else real teenagers dealt with on a daily basis. The rawness and honesty of their journals was published in a book called, “The Freedom Writers Diary,” which became an instant “New York Times” Best Seller.

All 150 Freedom Writers graduated in 1998. Many have gone on to pursue higher education and lucrative careers. The Freedom Writers Foundation was created shortly after to help other educators mirror Erin and the Freedom Writers’ accomplishments and ensure a quality education for all students.