Freedom Writers’ “Voices Unbound”

Author Gruwell singing books

Gruwell book signing

Renowned educator Erin Gruwell returned to Redlands to present “Voices Unbound: The Story of the Freedom Writers," an in-the-works documentary that follows the lives of inner-city high school students with difficult backgrounds who Gruwell taught in Long Beach in the late 1990s.

The April showing of the film recounts a handful of heart-wrenching stories and highlights of the 150 students who were largely considered “unreachable” and “at-risk” when they showed up in Gruwell’s freshman English class.

The students—and Gruwell herself—underwent personal journeys of transformation, using writing to change themselves and the world around them. Their stories and experiences are told in the bestselling book, “The Freedom Writer’s Diary,” and were the subject of a major film of the same name.

Gruwell’s nurturing of the students is at the heart of the new film, as is her rejoinder to educators she hopes will see the movie when it is released: “It’s about helping teachers help students find their voices.”

Despite the odds and with Gruwell’s nurturing and instruction, her students and the eventual “Freedom Writers” persevered to overcome intolerance, social injustices, and, in many cases, traumatic family lives. Gruwell offers testimony to teachers to persevere in the face of diminished resources, restrictive curriculum, inflexible administrators, and countless other challenges of public education.

“Teachers are being vilified,” said Gruwell, who was last year’s commencement speaker at the School of Education ceremony. “Our story is a love letter to teachers who get in the trenches every day, and make a difference.”

The movie is scheduled for release in the fall, and the University of Redlands is one of only two schools where feedback from the audience has been sought prior to its final cut.

The event was hosted by the Center for Educational Justice at the School of Education.

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