The Freedom Writers movie tells the true story of Erin Gruwell, who taught at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. This was shortly after the Rodney King riots in 1994 when she began teaching a disadvantaged class who were at risk. Many students were from different racial backgrounds, members of gangs who had been in and out of prison and had experienced indescribable violence from extremely young ages. These students would not accept a white woman from Long Beach would know or even have a clue about what they faced every day.
Erin was not dissuaded, most of all she cared. She knew she could make them see they mattered, their lives mattered and they could have a different life. She came up with a brilliant idea, and she utilised writing therapy without even knowing it.
One morning in the class she told them all she had bought them their own diaries. In these diaries they could write anything they wanted, a story, a poem, an account of their day, anything, a song. She specified it didn’t matter about the grammar or structure, what mattered was they could be honest and they could write something. Lastly, she said to them, this is for your eyes only. “Write as if no one else will see. But if you want me (Erin) to read it place it in this cupboard at the end of the day and I will be the only one who reads it.” They took their journals slowly and she had no idea if they were open to the idea or not. But the following day, she checked the cupboard and it was filled with 40 books of students who wanted her to read it.
For the first time in their life, they felt they had a voice and that someone cared.
Erin utilised the power of writing therapy:
- to write completely honestly
- to without an audience unless you want to share it
- to not be concerned with grammar, spelling etc
- to write every day
These students did this, and you know what happened – through her teaching and this writing, they completely changed their lives. They were able to express the things that were happening to them – in words on a page, and this is the power of writing therapy that can be anyone’s. These students were the first in their families to finish high school and the first in their families to go to college and now they have a foundation that visits schools and inspires other students that they can have a different life.
This is the power of writing therapy. 🙂 I have seen it with the people I have worked with, I have seen it in my tutorials at university when I read their life stories and tell them I will be the only who reads it and I care about their life story. It is one exercise of writing therapy I do with my tutorials. You should see the honesty I receive and the healing they also receive. Below is a link to the movie; which shows an overview of the story. This movie is a stunning account of an amazing woman who used simple techniques of writing therapy along with her desire to see people free from prejudice and hate, and from the violence and poverty they could not escape. She is my hero as are all of those students and the students I have known who have suffered horrendously but who still stand tall and survive. I have known many of these students as well and I have been inspired by them. As Erin says in her talks, when the teacher becomes the student and is humbled by her students. Check it out…takes my breath away.