Erin Gruwell | Educator and Founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation

Erin Gruwell

Educator and Founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation

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Erin Gruwell
Biography

Erin Gruwell is a teacher, author, and activist who has been fighting for social justice for over two decades. She first gained national attention in 1998 when she and her 150 students appeared on an ABC special–PrimeTime Live–with Connie Chung.

Erin's students - affectionately called the Freedom Writers - came from backgrounds of poverty, gangs, and violence, and many were at-risk of dropping out of school due to the school-to-prison pipeline. But, under Erin's guidance, all 150 Freedom Writers graduated from high school and pursued higher education.

In 1999, Erin and the Freedom Writers published their book, The Freedom Writers Diary, which detailed their unique journey from hardship to hope. The book became a #1 New York Times bestseller and was adapted into a major motion picture, Freedom Writers, starring two-time Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank as Erin. The film brought Erin's work to an even wider audience, and she has since used her platform to continue her fight for equity and inclusion with her non-profit, the Freedom Writers Foundation.

Erin's work has been recognized with several humanitarian awards, including the prestigious Spirit of Anne Frank Award. Erin and the Freedom Writers have appeared on multiple television shows to promote educational reform, including Oprah, The ViewGood Morning America, and NBC's TODAY. They have also been featured on National Public Radio, numerous newspapers, and national magazines, such as People. In 2019, Erin and the Freedom Writers were the subjects of the Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary Freedom Writers: Stories from the Heart. Erin also hosts The Freedom Writers Podcast with guests who are authors, activists and civil rights icons. 

In 2022, Erin and the Freedom Writers Foundation released their latest book, Dear Freedom Writer. This critically acclaimed book combines heartfelt letters written by the next generation of student authors with deeply personal responses from the original Freedom Writers.

Be it in the classroom, or otherwise, Erin’s powerful message of hope and possibility is sure to resonate with any audience, whom she encourages “to stand up, speak up and speak out.”

Erin Gruwell
Featured Videos

Current: TEDx: Becoming a Catalyst for Change

Time 18:34

More Videos From Erin Gruwell

TEDx: Becoming a Catalyst for Change
Time 18:34
What Storytellers Do
Time 01:42
Freedom Writers Documentary Screening
Time 01:08
Freedom Writers Podcast
Time 00:46

Achieving the Impossible
Become a Catalyst for Change

Erin Gruwell found herself the teacher for a troubled group of students who had been
dubbed unteachable. The tale of how this first-year teacher encouraged these wayward inner
city kids to redirect their lives, forego rampant drugs and the violence that pervaded their
neighborhoods is the story recounted in the best-selling The Freedom Writers Diary. From
the stark reality of one seemingly innocuous event in the classroom, she sparked a chord in
the students that led the class to name themselves the Freedom Writers. Over the course of
a few months, Gruwell empowered the class to re-chart their future and go on to become
college students, published writers and citizens for change.
In a powerful presentation that leaves audiences cheering, Gruwell parlays her story into
ways the audience can improve their performance and productivity by asking "what can I do
to make a difference?" Gruwell speaks to the authenticity and stamina needed to fuel
change. An emotional connection with your work and life goals is a powerful force that can
produce an unstoppable vision against all odds. Gruwell speaks from her heart, customizing
every speech to her audience and shares:
● How even little events can fuel transformational change
● How to develop an environment of trust and communication
● Ways that individuals can become catalysts for change in their own lives
● How to harness your own personal power and determination to accomplish success
that others may not think is possible

Topic #3

Since teaching the original Freedom Writers in Room 203 at Wilson High School, Erin
Gruwell has worked diligently to create a methodology that will universally allow teachers
across the country, and across the globe, to empower their students in the same
life-changing ways that Gruwell was able to empower the Freedom Writers. Gruwell
developed a Teacher’s Guide based on her methodology, and also, through the Freedom
Writers Foundation, organizes institutes and symposiums for teachers and professionals in
related fields.
Gruwell provides an empowering presentation of how she has passed on her methodology to
other teachers, and how she has been able to do this so successfully. Filled with anecdotes
from teachers across the country, Gruwell’s presentation proves that the methodology she
has developed is not location-specific, but can be implemented in all types of schools and
communities. Gruwell offers anecdotes and advice that show teachers then can implement
these ideas in their classrooms as well, and it shows students a different perspective on
what it is like to be a teacher.
This presentation can be adapted to two different styles. A workshop provides a more
hands-on experience of what Gruwell has learned from the teachers she has taught, and
how teachers can best apply that knowledge and her methodology. A traditional keynote
presentation allows Gruwell to speak with audiences of all sizes and truly emphasizes that
teachers have as much to learn as students do. Both the workshop and the keynote have a
unique emphasis on professional development, and are centered around a variety of
exercises that Gruwell and the Freedom Writers Foundation use at their institutes and
teacher trainings.

Teaching Tolerance

In a scene from the hit movie Freedom Writers, a film based on Erin Gruwell’s experiences as
an English teacher to inner-city Los Angeles youth, a Latino student is drawing a derogatory
picture of a fellow black student. Intercepting the racial correspondence, Gruwell is reminded
of a caricature she had seen from the Museum of Tolerance—Holocaust propaganda of a
Jew made to look like a rat. Drawing parallels between her students’ ignorance and the
prejudice of the Nazis, Gruwell captures the attention of her class by pointing out the
seriousness of their actions and the implications that can follow.
In a through-provoking presentation, Gruwell explores the very situations that have led us
towards conflict in the past and how tolerance and understanding could have prevented
such negative outcomes. A true proponent that one person can make an extraordinary

difference, Gruwell inspires us all to embrace the concept of changing lives by teaching
tolerance.

Erin Gruwell
Featured Books

The Freedom Writers Diary Teacher's Guideby Erin Gruwell

The Freedom Writers Diary Teacher's Guide

by Erin Gruwell
Designed for educators by the teacher who nurtured and created the Freedom Writers, this standards-based teachers’ guide includes innovative teaching techniques that will engage, empower, and enlighten.
In response to thousands of letters and e-mails from teachers across the country who learned about Erin Gruwell and her amazing students in The Freedom Writers Diary, Erin Gruwell and a team of teacher experts have written The Freedom Writers Diary Teacher's Guide, a book that will encourage teachers and students to expand the walls of their classrooms and think outside the box.
Here Gruwell goes in-depth and shares her unconventional but highly successful educational strategies and techniques (all 150 of her students who had been deemed “un-teachable” graduated from Wilson High School): from her very successful “toast for change” (an exercise in which Gruwell exhorted her students to leave the past behind and start fresh) to writing exercises that focus on the importance of journal writing, vocabulary, and more.
In an easy-to-use format with black-and-white illustrations, this teachers’ guide will become the essential go-to manual for teachers who want to make a difference in their pupils’ lives and create students who will make a difference.
Teach with Your Heartby Erin Gruwell

Teach with Your Heart

by Erin Gruwell
The extraordinary memoir of the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Freedom Writers Diary, who's been hailed as "a true inspiration" (Hilary Swank) and "simply magical when it comes to inspiring people to action" (Los Angeles Times).

Don't miss the public television documentary Freedom Writers: Stories from the Heart

In this passionate, poignant, and deeply personal memoir and call to arms, Erin Gruwell, the dynamic teacher who nurtured an extraordinary group of high school students from Long Beach, California, who called themselves the Freedom Writers, picks up where The Freedom Writers Diary--and the hit movie Freedom Writers--left off and brings the reader up to date on where the Freedom Writers are today.

Including their unforgettable trip to Auschwitz, where they met with Holocaust survivors; their tour of the attic of their beloved Anne Frank; and their visit to Bosnia with their friend Zlata Filipovic, Teach With Your Heart chronicles what happened with the Freedom Writers as they made their way through college and beyond. Along the way, Gruwell includes lessons for parents and teachers about what she learned from her remarkable band of students as she traveled through the emotional peaks and valleys on the front lines of our nation's educational system.

A mesmerizing story of one young woman's personal odyssey and of her unique ability to encourage others to follow in her footsteps, Teach With Your Heart is marked by the enviable radiance and irrepressible force of nature that are Erin Gruwell and her unbelievable determination to ensure that education in the United States truly meets the needs of every student.

Teaching Hopeby Erin Gruwell

Teaching Hope

by Erin Gruwell

Published to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the best-selling The Freedom Writers Diary, a volume of true accounts by Freedom Writers Method-trained teachers parallels the course of an academic year and reflects its contributors' struggles with intolerance, administration dogma, and other challenges. Original.

The Freedom Writers Diary (20th Anniversary Edition)by Erin Gruwell

The Freedom Writers Diary (20th Anniversary Edition)

by Erin Gruwell
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER & NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE

Straight from the front line of urban America, the inspiring story of one fiercely determined teacher and her remarkable students.

As an idealistic twenty-three-year-old English teacher at Wilson High School in Long beach, California, Erin Gruwell confronted a room of “unteachable, at-risk” students. One day she intercepted a note with an ugly racial caricature, and angrily declared that this was precisely the sort of thing that led to the Holocaust—only to be met by uncomprehending looks. So she and her students, using the treasured books Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo as their guides, undertook a life-changing, eye-opening, spirit-raising odyssey against intolerance and misunderstanding. They learned to see the parallels in these books to their own lives, recording their thoughts and feelings in diaries and dubbing themselves the “Freedom Writers” in homage to the civil rights activists “The Freedom Riders.”

With funds raised by a “Read-a-thon for Tolerance,” they arranged for Miep Gies, the courageous Dutch woman who sheltered the Frank family, to visit them in California, where she declared that Erin Gruwell’s students were “the real heroes.” Their efforts have paid off spectacularly, both in terms of recognition—appearances on “Prime Time Live” and “All Things Considered,” coverage in People magazine, a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley—and educationally. All 150 Freedom Writers have graduated from high school and are now attending college.

With powerful entries from the students’ own diaries and a narrative text by Erin Gruwell, The Freedom Writers Diary is an uplifting, unforgettable example of how hard work, courage, and the spirit of determination changed the lives of a teacher and her students.

The authors’ proceeds from this book will be donated to The Tolerance Education Foundation, an organization set up to pay for the Freedom Writers’ college tuition. Erin Gruwell is now a visiting professor at California State University, Long Beach, where some of her students are Freedom Writers.

Erin Gruwell
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