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Erin Gruwell, Speaker

Erin Gruwell

    • Founder & Executive Director of the Freedom Writers Foundation
    • Author of New York Times #1 Bestseller, The Freedom Writers Diary
    • Education Reform Advocate
Full Bio
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Erin Gruwell Video

Erin Gruwell Video

The Freedom Writers

The Freedom Writers

Freedom Talk 1 - What Storytellers Do

Freedom Talk 1 - What Storytellers Do

Erin Gruwell Speaker Biography

Former inner-city high school English teacher Erin Gruwell changed the lives of her students and became a change agent for the future of education with her philosophy of tolerance, respect, and the power of writing one’s own story.

Charged with turning around a class of low performing, underserved kids who lived in a community plagued by gang violence and racial hostility, Gruwell compared the family feud in Romeo and Juliet to a gang war and used the stories of Anne Frank and Zlata Filipović—students who wrote about their lives during wartime—to help students recognize the transformative power of writing their own stories in a world that felt chaotic and out of control.

Promoting tolerance and acceptance, Gruwell inspired her students to re-chart their futures. Sharing their journal entries with each other anonymously, teens who once refused to speak to kids of other races embraced each other as family. Dubbing themselves the “Freedom Writers”—in homage to civil rights activists known as the Freedom Riders—Gruwell and students captured their journey in the New York Times #1 bestseller, The Freedom Writers Diary, which has been called an “eye-opening, spirit-raising odyssey against intolerance and misunderstanding.” The book sold over one million copies and inspired the major motion picture Freedom Writers, starring Oscar winner Hilary Swank as Erin.

All 150 of Gruwell’s students graduated from high school, became published writers and catalysts for change, and over half graduated from college. Many remain active with the foundation Gruwell formed to teach the Freedom Writers philosophy and methods to schools around the country. Erin is also the author of Teach with Your Heart: Lessons I Learned from the Freedom Writers, and the Freedom Writers Teacher’s Guide, which helps teachers implement her lessons in their own classrooms. Her story and that of her students was also chronicled in the documentary Freedom Writers: Stories from an Undeclared War.

As a speaker, Erin draws on her educational philosophy and inspiring story to deliver powerful insights on effectively fostering teamwork, harnessing passion to create change, and helping individuals realize and maximize their potential. In March of 2022, a sequel celebrates the program’s legacy and relevance today. Dear Freedom Writer: Stories of Hardship and Hope from the Next Generation includes deeply personal, powerful stories written by 50 students from around the globe during the COVID pandemic—each one answered by one of the original Freedom Writers on topics that span generations—including abuse, racism, discrimination, poverty, incarceration, teen parenthood, mental health, self-harm, imposed borders, LGBTQIA+ identity, and police violence.

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. 


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
Filled with anecdotes from teachers across the country, Gruwell’s presentation proves that the methodology she has developed is not location-specific, but can be implemented in all types of schools and communities. In “Nurturing the Leader Within,” Erin explores her personal journey and her students’ transformations from disgruntled high school students to leaders and activists, illustrating that everyone has the power to embrace change and become a leader in their own community.



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