Erin Gruwell, writer, English teacher, leader of Freedom Writers, and now the founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation, visited Cypress College on Wednesday February 13 to present her new documentary Freedom Writers: Stories from the Heart.
Erin Gruwell is a well known teacher due to her method of teaching and the inspiring story of her work with a group of students at Woodrow Wilson High School, who were once deemed “unteachable” but are now nationally known as the Freedom Writers.
Erin Gruwell was born on August 15, 1969 in California. Gruwell graduated from Bonita High School, and University of Irvine. She then went to further her education at Cal State Long beach where she earned her teaching credentials and Master’s Degree. After receiving her Master’s and teaching credential, she began her teaching career at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach.
Gruwell had the intention of becoming a lawyer after graduating college but soon changed her mind when she saw the Los Angeles Riots on TV in the early 1990s. The LA riots inspired her to change people’s way of expressing their frustrations. Many asked, however, this could be done- how could anyone possibly ease frustration triggered by traumatic experiences such as losing a loved one due to gang affiliated wars or racial tension in the midst of low income communities or dangerous conflict happening at home, or reaching teens who’s main concern was making it to sixteen. For Gruwell the answer was simple- education.
As the audience watched Freedom Writers: Stories from the Heart, they learned more about the mechanisms Gruwell used to help her jaded students engage in conversation. In the documentary, Gruwell takes the audience on a journey through a freshman English class at Woodrow Wilson High School, a class in which many of the students were not concerned with graduating or participating in an education system that had failed them numerous times- a situation that echoed the experiences of many students. Gruwell tried to help them by finding literature the students could find relatable.
When asked what he took from Gruwell’s documentary, AS President Robert Mounce responded with, “It was really captivating- about the diversity and the impact on the different cultures and ethnicity from the story, [then] relating it to now and their stories, maybe even [relating to] our current students at Cypress College”.
After showing Freedom Writers: Stories from the Heart, Gruwell left the last 10 minutes of the event for the audience to ask any questions they may have after watching the documentary. Two students from Gruwell’s class back in 1994 shared their personal experience in Freedom Writers and what they have been doing since then.
Gruwell then ended the event with words of encouragement and inspiration to Cypress College students, and offered an internship position to Cypress College student, Jeremiyah White, an English major.