Are you ready to become a Freedom Writer?
Episode 10, July 2023: This month on the Distance Learning Roundtable — Join hosts USDLA's executive director Pat Cassella and international education expert Dean Hoke, managing director of Edu Alliance, as they interview teacher and author Erin Gruwell, founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation.
July 2023: A Note from Hope Katz Gibbs, founder, Inkandescent PR + Publishing Co. — It’s an honor to be the communications director for the US Distance Learning Association (USDLA), an organization that since 1987 has been helping us ramp up our skills as online educators, students, and business professionals.
To help spread the word about the importance of distance learning, last fall we launched the Distance Learning Roundtable, a podcast and video show hosted by USDLA’s executive director Pat Cassella and international education expert Dean Hoke, director of Edu Alliance. When we learned that Erin Gruwell would be speaking at USDLA’s National Conference in Orlando, July 17-20, we immediately invited her to be our July guest on the show. Today, we proudly release that episode and are honored to share Erin’s latest book with you, Dear Freedom Writer.
About the book: “Today’s students tell their stories of adversity and growth in letters to the original Freedom Writers—authors of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Freedom Writers Diary—who write supportive and powerful letters in response,” explains Erin, in 1994, was a first-year high school teacher in Long Beach, California. “My students were labeled ‘unteachable,’ but I saw past that. Instead of treating them as scores on a test, I knew each had a unique story to tell.”
Inspired by books like Anne Frank’s Diary, Erin’s students began writing their own diaries, eventually dubbing themselves the Freedom Writers. Together, they co-authored The Freedom Writers Diary, which launched a movement that remains incredibly relevant and impactful today. Their stories speak to young people who feel those around them do not care about their lives, feelings, and struggles. They want to be heard; they want to be seen.
In Dear Freedom Writer, the next generation of Freedom Writers shares its struggles with abuse, racism, discrimination, poverty, mental health, imposed borders, LGBTQIA+ identity, and police violence. Each story is answered with a letter of advice from an original Freedom Writer. With empathy and honesty, they address these young people not with the platitudes of a politician or a celebrity but with the pragmatic advice of people who have dealt with these same issues and come out on the other side. Through its eye-opening and inspiring stories, Dear Freedom Writer paints an unflinchingly honest portrait of today’s youth and offers a powerful message of perseverance, understanding, and hope.
About the first book — The Freedom Writer’s Diary: Back in 1994, Erin intercepted a note with an ugly racial caricature and angrily declared that this was precisely the sort of thing that led to the Holocaust. She was met by uncomprehending looks—none of her students had heard of one of the 20th century’s defining moments. So she rebooted her entire curriculum, using treasured books such as Anne Frank’s Diary as her guide to combat intolerance and misunderstanding. Her students recorded their thoughts and feelings in their diaries, eventually dubbing themselves the “Freedom Writers.”
Consisting of powerful entries from the students’ diaries and a narrative text by Erin, The Freedom Writers Diary is an unforgettable story of how hard work, courage, and determination changed a teacher’s and her students’ lives. The book has sold over one million copies in the two decades since its original publication and inspired a major motion picture Freedom Writers. And now, with this twentieth-anniversary edition, readers are brought up to date on the lives of the Freedom Writers as they blend indispensable to take on social issues with uplifting stories of attending college—and watch their own children follow in their footsteps. The Freedom Writers Diary remains vital for anyone who believes in second chances.
About Erin Gruwell: A teacher, author, and activist fighting for social justice for over two decades, Erin 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.
The Freedom Writer’s Diary 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 Spirit of Anne Frank Award. Erin and the Freedom Writers have appeared on multiple television shows to promote educational reform, including Oprah, The View, Good 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.
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