Erin Gruwell

Erin Gruwell

Speaker: Erin Gruwell

Educator, Author  and Founder, Freedom Writers Foundation


  • Becoming A Catalyst For Change
  • Teaching Tolerance
  • Nurturing the Leader Within

Nothing could have prepared Erin Gruwell for her first day teaching at Long Beach High School. Many of her students from this tough, racially divided school were deemed “unteachable,” and written off by the education system. Shaken, but undeterred, Gruwell leveraged the power of education to deliver an academic miracle.

Finding her classroom a safe haven, the Freedom Writers transcribed their stories on paper, transforming their lives one word at a time. Through Gruwell’s efforts, these stories were published in the book Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them. Her enthusiasm and fierce determination galvanized her class, and eventually all 150 of her students went on to graduate from high school and attend college.

Now, Gruwell’s story has made it to the big screen, as she is portrayed by Academy Award winner Hilary Swank in Paramount Picture’s feature film, Freedom Writers. “In the beginning I was pretty naïve and did not know a lot about at-risk teens. I knew I could see past color and culture, but I did not know how to get to the hearts of these young people. So I gave them a pen and told them to share their experiences through the art of writing. Through writing, my students discovered tolerance and respect for one another.”

Honored by many teaching and humanitarian awards, Gruwell founded the Erin Gruwell Education Project dedicated to promoting tolerance and innovative educational methods. Creating the “Ambassadors of Tolerance Tour,” Gruwell enriched the lives of her students with lessons of history, taking the Freedom Writers to visit Auschwitz in Poland, Anne Frank’s attic in Amsterdam, and war-torn Sarajevo. Chronicled by Academy Award-winning filmmakers, the story of their journey is currently being made into a documentary. The film is based on the experiences of this extraordinary teacher and her students.

 Becoming A Catalyst For Change

Erin Gruwell helped 150 of her students – many of whom were written off by the education system – to use the power of education to write a book, graduate from high school and attend college. In her inspiring presentation, Gruwell tells the story of this extraordinary journey – from poverty and despair to hope and promise – with stops at Anne Frank’s House and Auschwitz and then on to Capitol Hill and Congress.

Erin challenged her students to overcome the seemingly insurmountable problems of poverty, racism, violence. How can we all become role models for tolerance, respect, and cooperation? Erin Gruwell teaches us all how we can become “Catalysts for Change.” 

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. 

Nurturing the Leader Within


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