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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Writers continue to inspire students

Two members of the Freedom Writers will be speaking at NMU next week. The Freedom Writers are the group of inner city students who defied their backgrounds and the labels placed on them by the education system. With the help of one teacher, they have published a book about their experiences and started a foundation to help other students like themselves.

According to construction management major and Platform Personalities President Tom Rosencrants the two speakers are coming to NMU are actual Freedom Writers.

“Platform Personalities is a student organization that brings speakers/lectures to campus that might intrigue the student body to come listen to these peoples story’s and hopefully get inspired and maybe even learn something new,” Rosencrants said.

Labeled “delinquents” and “below average” these kids began high school already deemed unteachable by their professors. Many had first-hand experience with gangs, drugs and abuse.

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“When they began high school . . . they hated each other. Asian, Latino and African American students immediately grouped themselves by race. They had no respect for each other and were tangled in ongoing and intense gang violence,” Lisa Smith, the Freedom Writers’ agent, said.

While these students had been written off by most of their teachers, one instructor decided to support them.

In 1994, 24 year old Erin Gruwell was a recent college graduate and had landed her first job at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. Instead of buying into the labels that had been placed on her students, Gruwell challenged conventionally held beliefs about inner city kids and encouraged her students to do the same, Smith said. By believing in them an pushing them to succeed, Gruwell changed her students lives.

“After four years of class together with the same teacher, and being forced to write stories about themselves in journals and share them with each other, they began to learn that they had much more in common than they ever imagined,” Smith said.

According to her, the Freedom Writers as a group were formed through the assignment of books like ‘Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl’ and ‘Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo.’ Inspired by these two little girls, and their ability to connect with them, they began to anonymously chronicle their own lives. Their stories, along with narrative by Gruwell, were eventually published as a book, “The Freedom Writers Diary – How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them.” They dubbed themselves the Freedom Writers in honor of the anti-segregation civil rights activists, the Freedom Riders.

“They bonded together in their struggles with poverty and gang violence, and were determined to graduate high school and make more of themselves than what they had been shown growing up,” Smith said.

In 1997, Gruwell and the Freedom Writers formed the Freedom Writers Foundation. They travel throughout the country, as well as internationally, speaking at schools, juvenile detention centers, government institutions, community associations, and even large corporations. They also provide a scholarship program, which supports students with backgrounds and academic experiences similar to those of the Freedom Writers. The Freedom Writers Foundation strives to promote diversity, change education and give underprivileged students a chance to succeed.

“All 150 of the Freedom Writer students graduated high school, even though they were never expected to, and in some cases never expected to survive it. [And] many went on to graduate from college,” Smith said.

According to Rosencrants, the Freedom Writers will be here at NMU as guest speakers during the United Conference. The goal of the conference is to celebrate diversity, encourage tolerance and help students from different cultures understand each other.

“The organizer of the United Conference, Judy Puncochar brought the idea up to the group and we discussed it and thought it would be a great diversity event to bring to campus and have during the United Conference,” Rosencrants said. Puncochar is an education professor here at NMU.

The Freedom Writers will be at NMU at 7:00pm on Monday, Sept. 28 in the University Center Great Lakes rooms. They will be giving and hour long presentation and then will be available to meet with students and sign books, which will be available for purchase.

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