Mar 15, 2007
Best-selling author and inspirational teacher Erin Gruwell took time from her appearance at the Flint Public Library Wednesday to speak to about 40 students from Howell High School.
Gruwell, along with her former students at Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif., is the coauthor of “The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them.”
The anti-gay hate group known as the “LOVE” PAC (Livingston Organization for Values in Education) managed to briefly ban the inspirational book from HHS’s advanced 10th grade English class because of alleged profanity and references to drugs and sex acts. That brief success sparked a censorship campaign that also included a move to ban Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison's first novel, "The Bluest Eye," an acclaimed memoir written by Richard Wright in 1945, "Black Boy " and the classic Kurt Vonnegut novel "Slaughterhouse Five.”
Livingston County Daily Press & Argus reporter Dan Meisler and photographer Al Ward did an excellent job capturing the emotion and feel of the event where the students talked about the discrimination they face, see and experience.
Another student, junior Kelsea Raether, said she feels another type of discrimination — when she's afraid that she gets tainted by Howell's reputation as a racist community. She said she's been advised to take off her Howell High letter jacket when she goes to other parts of the state.
Gruwell encouraged them to dispel those negative stereotypes of Howell — which largely come from the fact that a Ku Klux Klan leader lived in Cohoctah Township until 1992.
"Wear that Howell jacket with pride," she said. "Tell them, 'This is the Howell we know.”
Gruwell also praised Cathy Capy, the Howell English teacher who assigned the book, for her courage, and announced she would be flown to California for training with the Freedom Writers Foundation. The foundation also was filming a documentary during the event.
Maria Reyes, one of Gruwell’s students and one of the co-authors, defended parts of the book “love” objected to.
The profanity, she said, was important to include because it reflects the reality of what the students in Long Beach heard and spoke every day.
"We wanted to make a book that was real," she said.
Passages on racism were included to give the lesson "people treat you the way to treat them."
And writing and publishing the stories about sexual abuse and molestation were important ways to testify about the abuse certain students suffered — and resulted in the perpetrators being punished.
"These stories are not titillating. These stories are not to arouse," Reyes said. "This is about young women standing up and saying 'You can't do this to me.' "
Some of the students also talked about what gave rise to the formation of “love.”
Sophomores Stephanie Onderchanin and Miranda Miller said they would take Gruwell's message about not putting up with racist comments to heart, and extended it to use of the word "gay" to disparage people.
Ann Coulter, Vicky Fyke, Alan Filip, Tom Sullivan and Cleary University are you listening? Why don’t you bring someone in like Erin Gruwell with a positive message to speak at Cleary’s Economic Club Speakers Luncheon Series instead of a hatemonger like Ann Coulter?