Published by Broadway in 1999, The Freedom Writers Diary chronicles the true story of English teacher Erin Gruwell and her first teaching assignment in Long Beach, California, working with students other teachers deemed "unteachable." Gruwell quickly learned that her students had more to worry about than homework; her students went home to gunfire, gangs, drugs, and a host of other difficult situations. The students were convinced that they had nothing to learn from a white woman who had never experienced firsthand the violence, discrimination, and hatred that was part of their everyday lives.
One day, Gruwell intercepted a note being passed between students; the paper revealed a racist caricature full of hate. Gruwell told her class that it was this sort of hate and misunderstanding that led to the Holocaust. Gruwell was shocked to learn that her students had never heard of the Holocaust.
Gruwell introduced her class to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and to Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo. She also provided every student with a journal in order for them to have a place to discuss their feelings, their fears, and their experiences. For the first time, the students took an interest in academics.
To bring this history to life, the students organized a "Read-a-Thon for Tolerance" to raise money to bring Miep Gies, the woman whose family hid Anne Frank, to their school. They were also visited by Zlata Filipovic. The group went on to receive tremendous recognition from the media and from the government, hoping that others would find inspiration in their story of success. Perhaps the pinnacle of their success was winning the Spirit of Anne Frank Award in 1998. The group traveled to New York to receive their award. In 1999, the group traveled to Europe together where they visited the Anne Frank House and various concentration camps.
It is nothing less than a miracle that all 150 of the Freedom Writers graduated from high school and went on to college. It is likely that none of their achievements would have been possible without Gruwell's fierce determination and perseverance.
In 2007, Paramount Pictures released The Freedom Writers starring Academy Award winner Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell.
It's 1994 in Long Beach, California. Idealistic Erin Gruwell is just starting her first teaching job, that as freshman and sophomore English teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School, which, two years earlier, implemented a voluntary integration program. For many of the existing teachers, the integration has ruined the school, whose previously stellar academic standing has been replaced with many students who will be lucky to graduate or even be literate. Despite choosing the school on purpose because of its integration program, Erin is unprepared for the nature of her classroom, whose students live by generations of strict moral codes of protecting their own at all cost. Many are in gangs and almost all know somebody that has been killed by gang violence. The Latinos hate the Cambodians who hate the blacks and so on. The only person the students hate more is Ms. Gruwell. It isn't until Erin holds an unsanctioned discussion about a recent drive-by shooting death that she fully begins to understand what she's up against. And it isn't until she provides an assignment of writing a daily journal - which will be not graded, and will remain unread by her unless they so choose - that the students begin to open up to her. As Erin tries harder and harder to have resources provided to teach properly (which often results in her needing to pay for them herself through working second and third jobs), she seems to face greater resistance, especially from her colleagues, such as Margaret Campbell, her section head, who lives by regulations and sees such resources as a waste, and Brian Gelford, who will protect his "priviledged" position of teaching the senior honors classes at all cost. Erin also finds that her teaching job is placing a strain on her marriage to Scott Casey, a man who seems to have lost his own idealistic way in life.