Erin Gruwell recalls that, during the Freedom Writers’ trip to Washington, someone suggested that their next step should be to visit Anne Frank’s attic. As a result, after graduation, the group makes plans to go to Europe. In the meantime, the Freedom Writers attend colleges all around the United States, an experience that is difficult and that each student adapts to differently, as they are forced to find their own path far from the comforts of classroom 203 and move forward in their lives—while at the same time maintaining the legacy of Anne Frank and helping others along their way.
The Freedom Writers’ capacity to transform spur-of-the-moment ideas into reality is characteristic of the group’s dynamics and demonstrates how seriously they take their dreams and ambitions. At the same time, the difficulty of transitioning to college shows that even realizing one’s dream is not necessarily a smooth process, as one is always forced to grow and confront difficult moments in the process.
Erin also takes part in a transition of her own, as she leaves high school and begins teaching about her experience with the Freedom Writers at National University, Long beach, to inspire other educators, while remaining present in the Freedom Writers’ lives, supporting them emotionally and intellectually. When the group gathers to meet with Harry Belafonte, a civil rights activist, he encourages the Freedom Writers to see their trip to Europe as a serious endeavor toward understanding history and promoting their message of tolerance.
Erin demonstrates her commitment to the Freedom Writers’ goals by sharing their methods and achievements with others, in the hope that this might lead to a cycle of positive change in her community and the world at large. The Freedom Writers’ trip to Europe proves to be an opportunity for them to reconnect with their ideals and continue their learning outside the classroom, and also to renew their commitment to Anne Frank’s legacy.
After hearing about the Columbine High School shooting, the Freedom Writers feel lucky at having avoided such tragedy in their own lives, but also understand the shooters’ sense of frustration and anger, as many of them have known what it feels like to believe in violence as a solution. Ms. Gruwell understands that she gave her rebellious adolescents a chance to express themselves and connect with the world, whereas the Columbine shooters remained dangerously isolated and alienated from their community. To continue delivering their message of peace, the Freedom Writers begin mentoring high school students.
The Freedom Writers’ reaction to the Columbine shooting demonstrates their capacity to empathize with others, as well as their understanding that violence of this kind does not necessarily happen in isolation, as lack of support and guidance can lead to such harmful behavior. Ms. Gruwell also adapts a pragmatic approach to this event, considering that all young people need to be given outlets to express their emotions, and that social isolation is a recipe for violence.
A few days before their trip to Europe, one of the Freedom Writers passes away. He suffered from cystic fibrosis all his life and died after his body rejected his lung transplant. In life, he realized many of his dreams, getting his driver’s license, graduating from high school, and attending college. During their trip to Europe, where they visit historic sites such as Auschwitz, Sarajevo, and Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, they light a candle for their late friend at every one of their stops.
While this student’s death is inevitably sad, the Freedom Writers are also able to celebrate the moments of joy and success that he experienced during his life. They confirm their status as a family, a group whose unity cannot be torn apart, by making their late friend present in their various endeavors.
Erin concludes her account by stating her hope that this book might inspire the reader to join the chain of literary inspiration that links Anne Frank, Zlata Filipović, the Freedom Writers and, finally, the readers themselves.
The Freedom Writers’ goal, as always, is to share their stories in order to build deep connections with people and impact not only themselves, but the community as a whole.