Freedom Writers

My husband and I watched an amazing movie the other night. It’s not a new movie (it’s rare we get out of the house to watch a new movie at the theater). We found this one on Netflix. The title struck me, “Freedom Writers.”

The description also:

“While her at-risk students are reading classics such as “The Diary of Anne Frank,” a young teacher asks them to keep journals about their troubled lives — hoping they can apply history’s lessons to break the cycle of violence and despair.”

The film began with scenes from the LA riots of the early 1990s, and I recalled when I was nine, watching the drama unfold on the news, seeing images of cops beating an innocent man and feeling sick to my stomach, wondering how anyone could be so cruel; what could possess them to use their power and title for evil.

The movie follows the first couple years that a young woman, Erin Gruwell, played by Hilary Swank, teaches English in a high school. The classrooms are reeling from what they called “forced integration.” Gruwell faces biased mindsets from the other teachers, who teach because they have to; disrespect and anger from the students, who know little but hatred for those outside their respective circles of race and culture.

After failing in other efforts, the teacher gives the students each notebook where they can keep a personal journal. She assures them it won’t be graded on content. “If you want me to read it,” she says, “just put it on the shelf. I will keep it locked except during class so you can put it there.”

The next time she looks, the shelf is full of notebooks. She begins to read and for the first time, she sees life from their perspective, through their eyes. It breaks her heart and it changes her life.

Those teenagers becomes her purpose in a way that the young woman cannot explain even to those closest to her. In her quest to make a lasting difference in their lives, she sacrifices much. To earn money for them to be able to have new books and go on field trip – when some had never left the suburb they lived in – she takes on a second job, and then a third.

Perhaps one of the reasons the movie struck a deep chord in me is that it combines writing with purpose, two things I’m starting to recognize are my “life themes.”

The movie is based on a true story.  I don’t want to say too much, because I want you to watch the movie, to watch this woman’s life focus transform … and how it affected the teenagers that no one thought had a chance at anything.

That’s what purpose can do. It is that inexplicable feeling that reaches deep inside and whispers, “This is why you are here. You were made for this.” It might be one thing. It might be many. But it enters your heart and fills the hole you never knew existed. And when you follow it, you find great joy, even if, as the teacher’s father puts it in the movie, you are “Blessed with a burden.”

And it hurts sometimes. Because it’s opening up to someone or to something, your heart gets involved … and when it does, there is the very real threat of pain, disappointment, loss, sacrifice.

But it’s worth it. Living for a sense of purpose. Following that rich passion where it leads is always worth it. Because it changes hearts, changes lives, and begins to change the world.

I know the next book to add to my “to-read” list.

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