Erin Gruwell describes what has happened to the Freedom Writers since graduation. She explains that, at the end of senior year, she knew that this was not the end of the Freedom Writers experience, but only the beginning. Since graduation, she has remained the students’ mentor and confidante, accompanying them as they have gone through college and chosen their careers—at the same time as they, too, have helped her deal with difficult times. The bond they have all formed has proven long-lasting, allowing each of them to draw from the group the strength and confidence needed to face life’s obstacles.
Erin’s conception of learning as a two-way process, in which the mentor learns from the mentee and vice-versa, proves accurate in her own life, as both she and the Freedom Writers are able to draw emotional support from each other. She emphasizes the group’s nature as a family, which neither time, difficult events, nor geographic separation can tear apart.
Ms. Gruwell explains that the Freedom Writers’ trip to Europe—and, in particular, to places associated with heinous violence such as Auschwitz—strengthened their desire to fight for tolerance in their own country. The success of their book, The Freedom Writers Diary, has led them to take part in a book tour across the United States. While the book has attracted controversy for both its language and content, Erin believes that what makes it unique is its powerful honesty and its message of tolerance. She notes the book’s use as a powerful education tool for students, parents, and teachers. She writes that they still receive daily messages from people who have connected with the book in strong ways.
The book’s controversial critical reception demonstrates the fact that people often judge things superficially, criticizing form or structure instead of being moved by deep and inspiring content. This is precisely what the Freedom Writers fight against: the tendency to focus on appearance instead of on people’s essential humanity. This message has proven impactful for many people, who have been inspired by the Freedom Writers’ stories in the same way that they were once inspired by Anne and Zlata’s.
While the Freedom Writers were invited to give nerve-racking speeches to large audiences, Erin taught education at National University and, with her students, devised a “Freedom Writers method,” outlining the key elements of the Freedom Writers’ success. As a result of a business partnership, Erin was able to secure college tuition for all Freedom Writers and, in exchange, create a Freedom Writers teacher program. Many Freedom Writers have in fact become teachers themselves in an effort to give back what they learned.
The Freedom Writers’ current pursuits reveal that education is never-ending, since public speaking makes them learn from new events (as they acquire a new skill) and allows them to share what they have learned with new people (as they speak to new audiences). Both Ms. Gruwell and her former students remain committed to sharing their techniques with their communities, so that their goals might come alive through other people besides them.
In 2000, the Freedom Writers became the subject of a large motion-picture. The Freedom Writers became actively involved in the filmmaking process, choosing actors who actually resembled the original Freedom Writers and who had had similar experiences as the students in classroom 203. Despite the movie’s success at capturing the Freedom Writers’ story accurately, the group felt inspired to create a documentary of their own, where their actual voices could be heard. This process took years, but when John Tu decided to finance this project, they were able to produce Voices Unbound: The Stories of the Freedom Writers.
The variety of methods that the Freedom Writers use to share their message is impressive, as it highlights their need to keep on finding a personal outlet for self-expression, as well as their desire to influence people in as many ways as possible. It also underlines their desire to make art and to keep on taking part in a variety of creative activities, in a similar way that they used to respond to Ms. Gruwell’s assignments in the classroom.
Erin concludes that the Freedom Writers’ goal remains to make sure that everyone can tell their own story and be heard. In going through this process themselves, sharing their lives in intimate, difficult ways, the Freedom Writers have inspired others to use their voices as a tool for empowerment.
The Freedom Writers aim to convince everyone that self-expression is a greater tool than anger or violence, for it has powerful positive effects both on oneself and on other people, despite the fears that being vulnerable can inspire.