ONE of my favourite writers is Anne Lamott, an American progressive political activist, public speaker and author.
While encouraging others to share their life stories she penned the following words: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”
This quote immediately came to my mind as I watched the movie ‘Freedom Writers’. The movie tells the true story of Erin Gruwell (played by Hilary Swank), who in 1994 chose to teach a bunch of students divided by their race and deemed the ‘unteachables’. The school they attended refused to invest in them and issue them with any books or materials.
Despite this, Erin made it her mission to turn upside-down the education system, taking on several other jobs to purchase books for her class. She provided her class with Anne Frank’s diary, and used the Dutch girl’s inspirational story to help deal with racism and intolerance, hoping to help pave a better future for the young people.
Furthermore, Erin encouraged the students to create a journal jotting down their stories, experiences, fears, thoughts and so on. Hence, they became known as the Freedom Writers (you can order a copy of the Freedom Writers’ diary, which includes up-to-date news concerning the young people).
The movie powerfully captures the journey of healing and togetherness, along with a gentle reminder that no-one is out of reach when it comes to compassion and grace. Everyone deserves a second chance. We all deserve a second, third and fourth chance. And we all need people who invest in us and don’t give up on us. Erin Gruwell exemplified grace, determination, courage and compassion. And, yes, there was a cost.
• She worked extra jobs so she could do this work.
• She lost those closest to her who couldn’t be a support to her work.
• Even the institution she worked for turned against her.
She believed in the young people who everyone else rejected and her inspiring story is a reminder that each of our stories is powerful. Your story belongs to you and no-one gets to silence you. Yes, many of us bear scars of pain and hardship, each a reminder of the things we have been through and survived. Our stories of pain, difficulty, grief, success, failure, tears and joy provides lessons and learnings for all of us.
We don’t need to hang every detail out for all to see, but perhaps simply sharing some snippets may just be the encouragement and inspiration that someone needs to hear. To all the Erins out there – in other words, to all the ones who invest in the rejected, excluded, marginalised and misfits – thank you. You inspire me. You inspire all of us to be better humans.