Toastmasters International announced Wednesday that motivational speaker Erin Gruwell, whose experiences as a Long Beach high school teacher spawned a bestselling book and movie, is its 2017 Golden Gavel award recipient.
The award, given to an individual who exemplifies excellence in the fields of communication and leadership, will be presented to Gruwell in late August during the organization’s annual convention in Vancouver, Canada.
Gruwell taught English to high school students in Long Beach in the 1990s. Gang violence and racial conflict was rampant and took the teens’ focus away from learning, prompting her to introduce literature written by others who faced similar life challenges as a way to reach her students.
Gruwell then began to encourage them to write about their own life circumstances. Students recorded their thoughts and feelings in raw and graphic detail on topics such as gangs, the killing of family members and friends, growing up in broken homes, drug use, finding love and other teenage concerns, and called themselves the Freedom Writers after the 1960s American civil rights activists.
The essays inspired the book, “The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them,” which was made into a movie starring actress Hilary Swank as Gruwell.
“The difference Gruwell has made in her students’ lives epitomizes the importance and impact of instilling confidence in others,” said Toastmasters International President Mike Storkey. “We are thrilled to announce her as this year’s Golden Gavel recipient and look forward to her inspiring presentation at the Toastmasters International Convention in Vancouver.”
After the “Freedom Writers” movie, Gruwell went on to form a Toastmasters club and create the Freedom Writers Foundation, through which she instructs educators on her teaching methods. She’s also a motivational speaker who travels the globe sharing her message to vulnerable and at-risk youth.
“Toastmasters was a game-changer for me personally and professionally, and contributed to the growth of the Freedom Writers,” Gruwell said. “Being selected as the 2017 Golden Gavel award recipient is an incredible honor and I accept the award on behalf of all of the teachers out there who, every day, go into a classroom and give of themselves so their students can learn to use wings to fly.”
Gruwell will accept the award and address attendees during a presentation on Aug. 25 at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Past Golden Gavel honorees include Walter Cronkite, Stephen Covey, Anthony Robbins, Muhammad Yunus and Zig Ziglar.
Rancho Santa Margarita-based Toastmasters International is a worldwide nonprofit educational organization, founded in 1924, that helps individuals become more effective communicators and leaders.
The organization’s membership exceeds 345,000 in more than 15,900 clubs in 142 countries.
–City News Service
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