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HomeEducationThe Freedom Writers are coming to Clarksville Tennessee

The Freedom Writers are coming to Clarksville Tennessee

Operation Turnaround hosts the Freedom Writers for Clarksville’s 1st annual Juvenile Collaborative: Resources for Juveniles, Families, and the Professionals Who Serve Them.

The Freedom Writers

The Freedom Writers are coming to Clarksville on Saturday, August 8th from 8:00a.m. till 3:00p.m. to speak, answer questions, and sign autographs at Northeast High School. Pre-registration is encouraged! The Freedom Writers story is one of a teacher who together with 150 Teens, used writing to change themselves, and the world around them.

Sessions during the day include: Navigating Juvenile Courts, Addiction and Recovery, Managing an unruly or truant child, Coping Skills, Special Education and Disabilities, Navigating CMCSS, Family Wellness, Adolescent Development, Parenting Skills, Self-Defense/RAD, Mentor Training, Depression and Mental Illness, Managing Behavior Problems in the Classroom, Communications 101, Finances 101, Getting Past the Past, Sex and Pregnancy, Dealing with Parents and Adults (kids only), Bullying, and Gangs 101.

The Freedom Writers’ story

Teacher Erin Gruwell
Teacher Erin Gruwell

In the fall of 1994, in Room 203 at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, an idealistic twenty-four-year-old teacher named Erin Gruwell faced her first group of students, dubbed by the administration as “unteachable, at-risk” teenagers. The class was a diverse mix of African-American, Latino, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Caucasian students, many of whom had grown up in rough neighborhoods in Long Beach. In the first few weeks of class, the students made it clear that they were not interested in what their teacher had to say, and made bets about how long she would last in their classroom.

Then a pivotal moment changed their lives forever. When a racial caricature of one of the African-American students circulated the classroom, Erin angrily intercepted the drawing and compared it to the Nazi caricatures of Jews during the Holocaust. To her amazement, the students responded with puzzled looks. Erin was appalled to discover that many of her students had never heard of the Holocaust. When she asked how many in her class had been shot at, however, almost all of them raised their hands, and began lifting their shirts to show their scars. This initiated a battle-scar show-and-tell that left Erin Gruwell shocked and inspired to take advantage of the powerful energy she had sparked.

After realizing her students were all too familiar with violence, she introduced them to Night by Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo. Reluctant at first to read these texts, the students of Room 203 were soon comparing their lives to those of Elie, Anne and Zlata, teenagers who, like them, were surrounded by violence. The students could not believe the intensity of their connections to these stories. Each student began to keep his or her own anonymous diary, recording tormenting stories of drug use, struggles with physical and mental abuse, and reactions to Erin and her unconventional teaching methods.

From the moment they named themselves “The Freedom Writers,” in honor of the Civil Rights leaders, the Freedom Riders, the students of Room 203 changed from a group of apathetic, frustrated students to a closely knit, motivated family. They raised funds and arranged for Miep Gies, the courageous Dutch woman who sheltered the Frank family during World War II, to visit them in California. Soon after, Zlata Filipovic responded to the Freedom Writers’ many letters inviting her to Long Beach, and spent five days with them, swapping stories of their experiences. The visits from Gies and Filipovic reinforced the Freedom Writers’ beliefs that voices can be heard, change is possible, and that their words have the power to affect people throughout the world.

freedomwritersIn 1997 the Freedom Writers organized an “Echoes of the Soul” fund raising concert to help pay for a trip to Washington, D.C., where they toured the Holocaust Museum and presented their diary to Secretary of Education Richard Riley. In 1998 they won the Spirit of Anne Frank Award and traveled to New York for the acceptance ceremony. In the summer of 1999, The Freedom Writers achieved one of their most far-reaching goals; they traveled to Europe and visited Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, the concentration camps in Germany and Poland, and their friend, Zlata Filipovic in her native Sarajevo, Bosnia. In January of 2007, the Freedom Writers caught the attention of Hollywood when Paramount Pictures released Freedom Writers, starring Academy Award winner Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell.

The public is invited to come out and hear the Freedom Writer’s story first hand. The event is free and open to the public, students and teachers are particularly encouraged to attend. There will also be breakout training sessions.

Operation Turnaround hopes you will join them in a new tradition of connecting juveniles, families, and educators with resources available within Clarksville and the surrounding area.


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