Freedom Writers

Updated: May 4

Arming with pen and paper

“Following the L.A. Riots, the mood in our city was unsettling, and on our first day of high school, we had only three things in common: we hated school, we hated our teacher, and we hated each other.” Quoted from The Freedom Writers Foundation. Erin Gruwell, an English school teacher at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, California, empowered teenagers to take control of their lives by arming them with pens and composition notebooks. The story of youth dealing with the reality of possibly not making it to age 16, let alone graduate sadly continues today in some of the toughest inner cities around the world. But these youth challenged themselves and the education system to be better.

With our latest war against the new COVID-19, one can imagine how even more complicated lives are now without the refuge of school. When we look at the population as a whole and what each family must be dealing with in lockdown, there are some essential tools accessible to most families. The path to success is open to everyone to imagine. Write about how you feel now and where you want to go in the future and do dream big. But how do you get motivated to begin, with no teachers by your side? Many families who have suddenly lost their jobs, perhaps have little savings, and children at home in virtual schools face challenges like never before.


What if just by trying to record what is happening to you now, you could become a historian. Think about arming your family with pen and paper to start a daily diary of this particular period.


1. What makes your situation unique; how have your coped, and which normalities have been upended?

2. What do you value more, and what do you see as having less value now?

3. How has COVID-19 reshaped your life, world, and priorities?


Each story, no matter what your background, will be written with upsetting and inspiring excerpts. But like the original Freedom Writers from Erin’s classroom, our families can feel hope that their story will want to be heard, especially by future generations.

Think of the Diary of Anne Frank. As upsetting and life-threatening as her story was, it has inspired hundreds of thousands over the generations to pause and reflect on our freedom and rights as human beings to live the way we want to. Think about what you valued before current events, how you are feeling now, and what you want to see for the future.

How can you and your family become Freedom Writers? You don’t need to be impoverished and endangered like the youth in Erin Gruwell’s class or Anne Frank; you just need a pen and paper.


Do you want to become a Freedom Writer? Submit your story to the Stymied Optimist by answering the three questions mentioned above. Contact:kristina@tapley.info


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The image above: Kids Share Zambia writing instructions to begin the book building workshop for girls living in a safe house outside the capital city of Lusaka, Zambia. The photograph by Wari Om, Kids Share Workshops photographer, and film-maker.


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