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Erin Gruwell        

Founder & Executive Director of the Freedom Writers Foundation; Education Reform Advocate

Erin Gruwell is a teacher, an author, and an activist who has been fighting for social justice for over two decades. She first gained national attention in 1998 when she and her 150 students appeared on an ABC special–PrimeTime Live–with Connie Chung.

Gruwell'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 Gruwell's guidance, all 150 Freedom Writers graduated from high school and pursued higher education.

In 1999, Gruwell and the Freedom Writers published their book, "The Freedom Writers Diary," which detailed their unique journey from hardship to hope. The book 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 Gruwell. The film brought Gruwell'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.

Gruwell's work has been recognized with several humanitarian awards, including the prestigious Spirit of Anne Frank Award. Gruwell 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, Gruwell and the Freedom Writers were the subjects of the Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary Freedom Writers: Stories from the Heart. Gruwell also hosts "The Freedom Writers Podcast" with guests who are authors, activists and civil rights icons.

In 2022, Gruwell and the Freedom Writers Foundation released their latest book, "Dear Freedom Writer." This critically acclaimed book combines heartfelt letters written by the next generation of student authors with deeply personal responses from the original Freedom Writers.

Be it in the classroom, or otherwise, Gruwell’s powerful message of hope and possibility is sure to resonate with any audience, whom she encourages “to stand up, speak up and speak out.”

Speech Topics

Becoming A Catalyst For Change

Erin Gruwell helped 150 of her students - many of whom were written off by the education system - to use the power of education to write a book, graduate from high school and attend college. In her inspiring presentation, Gruwell tells the story of this extraordinary journey - from poverty and despair to hope and promise - with stops at Anne Frank's House and Auschwitz and then on to Capitol Hill and Congress.

Erin challenged her students to overcome the seemingly insurmountable problems of poverty, racism, violence. How can we all become role models for tolerance, respect, and cooperation? Erin Gruwell teaches us all how we can become "Catalysts for Change."

Nurturing the Leader Within

Teaching Tolerance

In a scene from the hit movie Freedom Writers, a film based on Erin Gruwell’s experiences as an English teacher to inner-city Los Angeles youth, a Latino student is drawing a derogatory picture of a fellow black student. Intercepting the racial correspondence, Gruwell is reminded of a caricature she had seen from the Museum of Tolerance—Holocaust propaganda of a Jew made to look like a rat. Drawing parallels between her students’ ignorance and the prejudice of the Nazis, Gruwell captures the attention of her class by pointing out the seriousness of their actions and the implications that can follow.

In a through-provoking presentation, Gruwell explores the very situations that have led us towards conflict in the past and how tolerance and understanding could have prevented such negative outcomes. A true proponent that one person can make an extraordinary difference, Gruwell inspires us all to embrace the concept of changing lives by teaching tolerance.

Achieving the Impossible: Become a Catalyst for Change

Erin Gruwell found herself the teacher for a troubled group of students who had been dubbed unteachable. The tale of how this first-year teacher encouraged these wayward inner city kids to redirect their lives, forego rampant drugs and the violence that pervaded their neighborhoods is the story recounted in the best-selling The Freedom Writers Diary. From the stark reality of one seemingly innocuous event in the classroom, she sparked a chord in the students that led the class to name themselves the Freedom Writers. Over the course of a few months, Gruwell empowered the class to re-chart their future and go on to become college students, published writers and citizens for change.

In a powerful presentation that leaves audiences cheering, Gruwell parlays her story into ways the audience can improve their performance and productivity by asking "what can I do to make a difference?" Gruwell speaks to the authenticity and stamina needed to fuel change. An emotional connection with your work and life goals is a powerful force that can produce an unstoppable vision against all odds. Gruwell speaks from her heart, customizing every speech to her audience and shares:

How even little events can fuel transformational change

How to develop an environment of trust and communication

Ways that individuals can become catalysts for change in their own lives

How to harness your own personal power and determination to accomplish success that others may not think is possible


What A High School Teacher Who Turned Her Students Into Best ...
When Erin Gruwell jettisoned her entire curriculum and replaced it with creative new teaching techniques, she inspired her students to start journaling about their  ...
My View: Inspiring students to put their stories 'on the record ...
By Erin Gruwell, Special to CNN Editor's note: Erin Gruwell is the inspiration for the film “Freedom Writers,” starring Hilary Swank. She helped a group of ...
'Freedom Writers' educator speaks to Tuscaloosa City Schools ...
Erin Gruwell, pictured left, of Freedom Writers fame spoke to Tuscaloosa City Schools faculty and staff Monday at TCS's Institute Day. (c/o Lesley Bruinton).
Freedom Writers Foundation Founder, Erin Gruwell Delivers ...
On June 22, 2013, the founder of Freedom Writers Foundation, Erin Gruwell was the keynote speaker at American Career College's 2013 Summer ...
Erin Gruwell of the Freedom Writers at Soka University to present ...
Erin Gruwell, NY Times best-selling author of The Freedom Writer's Diary, will be at Soka University on Wednesday, March 13th from 6-9 pm to show her ...

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