I recently had the pleasure to hear Erin Gruwell speak at a fundraising event in Seattle. At the time, I did not know of the Freedom Writer’s nor did I know their history or their mission. Having been raised in a troubling environment with my own set of challenges, I felt compelled to buy the book she was promoting and learn more about what she and her freedmon writers were all about. Buying the book was one of the best eye openers I’ve had in a long time. The Freedom Writer’s mission is to speak out and make a difference to end intolerance. They are choosing to do this through writing, mentoring, and challenging their individual lives to uphold the beliefs they have come to preach. If saving one life changes the world (and I believe it does), then I have every motivation to uphold my promise to myself and speak up for the youth of my town.
Having created a sort of bubble within which I live my life, I had forgotten about those children and youth who were growing up in terrible and often seemingly unsalvagable situations in the world and in my back yard, no less. I had made a promise to myself after I left that town that I would return to my home town to speak to the community in an attempt to help inspire change in a more or less depressed region, but I have yet to fulfill that promise. My biggest fear for reaching out to these youth is that they will look at me and wonder ‘Who are you that we should care?’
Youth are impressionable and I believe the strongest influence that can make a difference and spark a change in someone comes from their peers and mentors– the people they look up to or within which they have come to find safety or comfort. There is an undeniable theme in the beginning of the book, whereby, these youth could not find inspiration until they looked beyond their back yard. Last week my brother in-law’s cousin shot himself. Could there have been a voice out there helping him to see that there was more for him in this life by staying here and supporting his three children the best he could? There are drive-by shootings on streets where people I care about live. I see people I care about believe it is ok to beg for things–sometimes believing things are just owed to them or things are just too damn hard to put up a fight. I have a nephew who now has a new family because there was no family environment for him to grow up in within his biological family. It is sad to see how people have given up and in their own way have depressed a spirit and become like the depressed city within which they live. Worse, these impressionable youth grow up not knowing anything better.
If a butterfly can flap it’s wings on one continent and cause a hurricane on another, then certainly the simplest thing I can do is speak to my community and hope to inspire even one person to look beyond their back yard and make a change. Like the Freedom Writer’s and I discovered, change starts from within and can catch on when encouraged and fostered. Sure, the economy of that community went to shit, but did the people have to follow? Or, was it the people that allowed the economy to become depressed and stay that way? If there is one message I share with the Freedmon Writers and that I would like to take back to my community, it is that change is possible and can be achieved even under the most depressed situations. Like that butterfly, even the slightest shift for change will make a difference in the world. This will be my message when I speak to them this fall.
For more information about the Freedom Writers: http://www.gruwellproject.org/site/pp.asp?c=bnJEJJPxB&b=78955.