Founder of Freedom Writers Inspires Knox, Galesburg Community
October 16, 2017
When acclaimed teacher Erin Gruwell came to speak at Knox on Educational Equality and the Value of Diversity, the word on many attendees' minds was "inspiring."
"It was amazing," commented Katarina Ignacek ‘18. "Exceptional. I had goosebumps."
Gruwell is the founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation. She and her students wrote and published The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them, which was later the basis of the 2007 movie Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank.
In the book, Gruwell discusses how she challenged her students to overcome the seemingly insurmountable problems of poverty, racism, and violence through writing. She currently tours around the world to teach educators how to implement her innovative lesson plans into their own classrooms.
Students, faculty, staff, and members of the Galesburg community, including a class from a local high school, gathered in Kresge Recital Hall to hear Gruwell's talk.
Ignacek was one of the education majors present. She said that Gruwell is "a personal inspiration and hero."
"She stands for everything that I hope to include in my way of teaching students," said Ignacek. "I was so excited to see her in person."
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Adam Davis '18, who is currently student teaching, said it left him with the impression that he can always do more for his students.
"It was very powerful," he said. "It gives you a lot of hope, especially in a city like Galesburg where not everyone comes from stable backgrounds, that they'll be able to succeed if you put in the work."
Gruwell's talk focused on the struggle her students faced, and how literature in her classroom opened up their passion for learning. At the end of the event, Gruwell welcomed the crowded line of people who wanted to meet her and individually shook hands, took photos, and signed books.
"The love she has for her students was totally visible," said Francesca Downs '19. "She spent thousands of dollars on books for her kids, just to show them that they're not alone and she believed in them."
"It made me realize everyone has a purpose in life and you really need to use that purpose to do the best that you can," they added. "The world is made up of people, and in order for things to get better you need to step up. She stepped up. I want to step up, too."
Gruwell's talk was sponsored by the Knox Cultural Affairs Committee, Educational Studies Department, and the Western Illinois Reading Council (WIRC).