Freedom Writer inspires students

Published 8:00 am Thursday, February 14, 2019

Manny Scott’s father was incarcerated.

He skipped 60 to 90 days of school annually from fourth grade to freshman year of high school. Scott dropped out of school at age 14 and lived in 26 places by the time he was 16 years old. His best friend Alex, was brutally murdered.

Immersed in grief and anger, Scott shared with Austin High School students on Wednesday morning that he was close to ending his life and thought about making others feeling his anguish. It could have ended in complete self-destruction, but a complete stranger had sat next to him on a bench and encouraged him to change his life’s story and create a new life for himself.

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These chain of events prompted change in Scott and brought him to Erin Gruwell’s English class at Woodrow Wilson High School, which is now known internationally as the Freedom Writers. Through his own journaling as part of an assignment, Scott found himself healing and for once, hoping for a better future for himself.

“Protect what you think about yourself,” he implored the more than 1,500 people sitting in Knowlton Auditorium. “You cannot stop. You have the power to make the decisions. Nothing can stop you.”

“The Freedom Writers Diary” was made up of journals that Gruwell asked her students to write about their lives and their struggles. Scott was one of the original Freedom Writers, whose class inspired the 2007 film “The Freedom Writers” (Scott’s story was one of several that was used to create the character, Marcus).

Scott shares testimonies of students he met across the country who also struggled with finding hope during life’s hardships.

Austin High School freshmen were reading “The Freedom Writers” as part of their English class, and learned about how to put their thoughts into writing. Emily Hovland, an English teacher, stated that she and other teachers found out that Scott planned to stop by the high school last fall and felt it was a perfect way to incorporate the student’s reading and making it relatable to them.

“The timing was incredible,” Hovland said. “We used to do writing units and then watch the movie. We looked at different life situations, and did read alouds at the start of each class. These students learn about loyalty and staying true to what you believe in. We thought  ‘wow this is fitting’ and how cool it was to have someone they read about come and speak.”

Scott completely changed the direction of his life. He founded Ink International, Inc. which is an education consulting firm that empowered around two million people to improve the quality of not only their own lives, but also lives around them. He’s married and has children, he became a pilot and a Ph.D. student, and now tours the country to share his testimony.

Throughout Wednesday’s emotionally charged event, Scott asked students to stand if a situation applied to them and to see that those who they perceived to be “different” were actually going through similar challenges as them. What started out as light and humorous like figuring out who liked what type of music, turned into eye-opening realizations that many students struggle with broken households, depression and losing a loved one to violence.

These messages were ones that Scott heard from students all over the country, and he carried those stories with him personally every time he went out to speak.

“I think what comes from the heart transcends race, color and socieconomic boundaries,” Scott said. “I understand pain and I tap into that. This is an environment I create to make people feel safe. What comes from the heart, stays in the heart.”

His message that decisions an individual makes determines the course of one’s life, rather than the conditions they find themselves in, resonated deeply with several students, who may not have known that their fellow peers may have been fighting a battle themselves.

“To know what other people were going through, makes you wonder if we really see what’s going on,” said Kelijah Greene, a freshman. “This speaker really touched our hearts and it was something different. We need to work together as one.”

Freshman Skyler Peter also experienced hardships that he rarely shared with anyone at his school. However, by listening to Scott, Peter felt that he could also take control of his own future.

“I want to better myself,” he said. “I want to give my mom a house, and to have a better experience for myself. Through all the pain and scars, I can get through it. It’s my chance to change, and I will do better.”