The Freedom Writers Diary is a collection of diary entries from kids in Erin Gruwell’s “Disciplinary Transfer” English class. All of the students tell something that they think has influenced their life dramatically. The book starts shortly after major events for the kids happen such as the Rodney King Riots and the enforcement of Proposition 187.
The book starts off with an average teenage tone, sarcastic and distant, as they take an undesired step twoards their new teacher, Erin Gruwell. The kids all feel that they are discriminated against in one way or another. They all live in unsafe areas of Long Beach, California. Most people found Long Beach to be the “gangsta-rap capital”, as Ms. Gruwell said in her first entry. They don’t have very much faith in Ms. Gruwell and judge her by the fact she is a young, white, rich (presumably because she is white) girl who couldn’t handle what they see every day, and couldn’t handle them. Instantly they assume she won’t be there for more than a month. Almost as quickly, they are shocked to find that she actually thinks they can achieve something and is willing to help them every step of the way.
The kids face their own battles every day. Each entry you read is different and each can have a connection that’s closer to your life than you think. It is extremely hard to keep in mind that at the begging of the book, the kids are all fourteen to fifteen year old freshman. Some of their recounts date back farther than that.
One girl expresses her hatred of people she has never met, and theirs of her. She is cornered in the hall for being Latina. A group of Asian classmates start harassing her because of her race and the gang-race war they are stuck in now. She says “…at school, we separate ourselves from people who are different from us. That’s just the way it is, and we all respect that.” This statement was my first insight into their state of mind. Sort of a “Why fix what isn’t broken?” attitude. They silently take the torture they endure or take action later.
Another student writes of the night that people beat them on the street, and she/he couldn’t even see their attacker. Later a cross was set on fire in front of her house, a victim of a hate crime by the KKK. Personally, I didn’t know that there had been any KKK attacks in the last 20 years… I was wrong. This child was attacked for simply being “a black person.”
These are just a couple of stories that stuck with me. These are the stories that opened my eyes to the intolerance of this world. The Freedom writers recognized each other’s troubles and gave the comfort that not one of them was alone. They met Zlata, a survivor of the Bosnian war, and a teenager like them…
All in all, you would never think this book was written and edited by high school students. It is well written and attention grabbing. Their accounts almost sound like fiction from my perspective. They have an excellent understanding of diction, grammar, and life. They have the unthinkable ability to write what they think and feel with complete ease. It is a book that connects with people of any age, race, political occupation, or religion, which as many of us know is hard to do. They have made me listen to something, simply because it is worth hearing, and I dare to compare them to one of my favorites, Ray Bradbury, for their complete twenty-twenty perception of the world around them.
I have given nothing away in my short review. Every story in the book is different, and worth reading. I hope that everyone would take time to read this book, and do with it what they will. They may sit back and do nothing. They may make a stand in their own community. I would just ask everyone to keep in mind the words of Elie Wiesel, “The opposite of love is not hate, its indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, its indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, its indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, its indifference.”… “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
After reading the Freedom Writers words, I know only one thing. Nothing can come from Indifference.