After giving a copy of their book to Richard Riley, the Freedom Writers hold a candlelight vigil for all the victims of violence they knew. Everyone walks in a chain toward the Washington Monument, holding up traffic in the process. This student feels that, in trying to communicate their message to others, they are actively working to change the world.
This student begins to trust in the power of symbolic actions. Even though the group is not actively stopping violence by holding hands, the emotional weight of this action has the power to inspire each individual to fight for a collective goal.
When everyone begins to sing around the monument, in honor of everyone who died, this student does not cry, as s/he does not want to relive the pain of losing so many friends to violence. When they return to the hotel, though, all that pain comes back and makes the student feel completely overwhelmed. S/he realizes that s/he could have easily been one of the victims they commemorated. Overcome with these memories of near-death experiences, s/he finds the strength to keep on fighting and surviving.
This student’s emotional reaction to the moment of collective remembrance demonstrates the importance of coming to terms with difficult moments in life. Even though they are often difficult to bear and to remember, they can serve as powerful catalysts to find individual strength, overcome one’s past, and, in so doing, potentially impact the rest of the community.
On the way home from Washington, D.C., this student reflects on the fact that this trip led him to ride an airplane for the first time in his life and, more generally, that Ms. Gruwell has changed his life. He describes his mother’s violent boyfriend, who used to abuse the student and use all the money his mother earned to buy drugs, once even locking the student into the trunk of his car for over a day. When he finally got out, his mother could only wash his urine- and engine-oil-soaked pants with cold water, because they didn’t have enough money for soap or hot water.
This student’s experience with extreme, violent abuse demonstrates the precarious family situation he finds himself in, as no one in his family is able to protect him and make him feel safe. Ms. Gruwell has created an alternative environment in which students can feel safe and protected outside of their homes. This has given many students the emotional and intellectual comfort they need to cope with their difficult situations.
His mom then went to the hospital to deliver her baby, and the student was stuck at home with his mother’s violent boyfriend, who hit him all the time. When his mother came home, they were evicted from the house, because the boyfriend had sold all their possessions to buy drugs. For two years, they lived in a garage. When they finally could afford an actual house, the mother’s boyfriend slept in the bedroom while everybody else slept in the living room. After living in these conditions for so long, the student began believing the boyfriend in thinking that he wouldn’t never succeed at anything in life. However, Ms. Gruwell proved the contrary and assured him that nothing that happened to his mother was his fault.
In this student’s experience, verbal and physical abuse combine with poverty to make him feel pessimistic and depressed about his own opportunities—even though none of what he is having to live through is the result of his own actions. Ms. Gruwell succeeds in making the student see that he does not bear any responsibility for what happens in his family. Rather, if he trusts in himself and works hard, he can succeed in escaping the difficult circumstances he has been forced to endure.