Before Erin Gruwell began her career as an English teacher at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, she was told that she would be dealing with unteachable, at-risk kids. Nevertheless, the idealistic 23-year-old saw possibility.
She said, “These children are like lotus plants. A lotus flower grows in a muddy pond, it lives in a dirty environment, but amid the muddy pond lies a beautiful flower emerging from the water. I hope with guidance, these kids can become as beautiful as the lotus flower.”
When the teacher asked her students to write or draw a picture describing their neighborhood, one boy wrote, “I hate my neighborhood. It’s surrounded by gangsters and drug dealers.” When Gruwell suggested that her students write about their life goals, the typical response was, “Goals to aim for? I don’t aim because I don’t have any goals; instead, I deal with what comes. I have had to adapt to what is happening around me.”
When Gruwell asked how many students had heard of the Holocaust, not a single person raised his hand. And then she asked, “How many of you have been shot at?” Nearly every hand went up.
Now, Gruwell knew what she must do; she would introduce her kids to literature featuring teens in crisis, like “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl,” and “Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo.” The students would see the similarity of their lives to those of other kids around the world. As they read and journaled their thoughts about life, their lives began to change.
Later, a student would write, “Mrs. Gruwell, my crazy English teacher, from last year, is really the only person that made me think of hope for my future.”
Grewell and her students named themselves “The Freedom Writers.” One hundred-fifty Freedom Writers graduated from high school and attended college. Their story is featured in the book “The Freedom Writers Diary.” A movie was made based on the book, and the Freedom Writers appeared on “Prime Time Live” and “All Things Considered.”
Dr. Ben Carson considered his mother, Sonya, to be his first and best mentor. She taught Ben and his brother that if they would do their best God would do the rest. And she said, “I think you can be the president or a pilot, the best doctor in the world, or the best carpenter in the world, just do your best.”
Sometimes it only takes a few positive words to give a child hope and crack the door to his future. In “The Power of Positive Prophecy” by Laurie Beth Jones, there is a story of a boy who grew up in an alcoholic household where he never heard a positive word. On the way from school each day, Michael would always stop at Jimmy’s, the local dry-cleaner, to get a piece of candy from the jar on the counter. Michael and the dry-cleaner became friends, and one day, Jimmy said, “Michael, you are a very smart boy. Someday you are going to run a very big business.” The little boy listened in disbelief and return home only to get called a “dog” and be knocked around by his dad. Years later, Michael said, “Jimmy the dry-cleaner was the only person believing in me. But today I run a multimillion-dollar health care organization, just like Jimmy predicted. I guess you could say that the dry-cleaner was the prophet in my life.”
Mark Batterson says, “You may not see yourself as a prophet, but you are one. You’re a prophet to your friends. You’re a prophet to your children. You’re a prophet at work and a prophet at home. And your words have the potential to change lives by helping people discover their identities and destinies.”
Virginia Dawkins is the author of Stepping Stones: Steps from Shackles to Freedom, available at Amazon.