Multiple departments funded an event that brought guest author and speaker Erin Gruwell to the Creveling Lounge on Wednesday night to gather dreamers and believers alike.
Inspired by Gruwell’s book, English professor Dustin Hanvey’s two-semester Stretch Accelerated Composition (STACC) course is modeled after her best-selling book “The Freedom Writers Diary.”
As detailed in the book, Gruwell’s “Freedom Writers” and her methodology eventually gained national attention. After creating a space where students learned to trade in their guns for pens, she leveraged the exposure by taking them across the country to places where they had never thought of going. The Freedom Writers didn’t know what awaited them every morning let alone what was available for them outside of Long Beach. One of their stops included Washington, D.C., where the group presented their ideas on education to the United States Secretary of Education.
Last year Hanvey was able to take 19 students to Washington D.C. This year he will be taking 27. The students will go on this trip the week of Spring Break, March 6 to March 12.
“The students responded very well to the book,” said Hanvey in a press release last year. “Many of them were able to relate to it because they came from similar backgrounds.”
As Hanvey introduced Gruwell and Tiffony Jacobs, one of her Freedom Writers, he became emotional, looking back at the first trip he took with the students. Gruwell was greeted with a big hug from Hanvey, along with some of his current and former students.
“When I started this movement I had no idea I would get blessed,” said Gruwell.
After gaining momentum from the book it was only fair to make it into a Hollywood movie.
“I wanted real kids to play these parts, not another actor on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon,” Gruwell said following the trailer for the film, “The Freedom Writers.”
As Gruwell continued to inscribe each Freedom Writer’s story in our heads, she introduced some of the games she played to help break the ice. One of the games she called “The Line Game,” which consisted of Gruwell asking questions and the students stepping up if they agreed.
This game specifically spoke to Maria Reyes, another Freedom Writer. She was left alone on the line when asked, “Has anyone ever been homeless?” Reyes felt small and helpless when she was left alone until Jacobs stepped up with her.
“I had never stood up to anything, or anyone,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs would experience abuse in her home as she watched her father beat her mother.
“I could’ve been another statistic,” she said.
Jacobs’ home would sometimes consist of the cold sidewalk and the warmth of two trash cans. She has since overcome that and has received her bachelor’s from Cal State Long Beach and maintained a healthy relationship with her parents.
As Jacobs and Gruwell wrapped up their riveting speeches, Gruwell thanked Hanvey and the students for believing in her dream and encouraging the students to go after what they believe in.
Hanvey’s Freedom Writers trip was funded entirely by the students last year. They raised money by creating a series of fundraisers over the course of the fall and spring semesters and even developed a GoFundMe page.
This year, Hanvey has received a total of five scholarships totaling $1,000 which will allow more students to go on the trip.
“Ultimately, the trip is about community building and student success,” said Hanvey. “Ninety percent of students who took the trip last year passed my course.”
What was once a dream for Hanvey continues as a reality.
Click here for photo gallery.