Tonight I got a special surprise I hadn’t expected. Alex is part of a dance group that, from time to time, gets asked to perform for special events. Tonight they participated in a fundraising event called Change4Change to benefit The Freedom Writers Foundation. First of all, if you haven’t seen the movie with Hilary Swank, do yourself a favor and go out and rent it ASAP. It is a must see. The mission of The Freedom Writers Foundation, in their own words, is: “It’s time to publicly and systematically promote an educational philosophy that honors diversity in the classroom. It’s time to give students the opportunity to reach their full potential and aspire to higher education. It’s time to remind them that they can deeply impact their communities and the world. The Freedom Writers Foundation believes the time has come. And by empowering students and teachers alike through outreach, curriculum, and scholarships, the time is now.”
If you don’t know the story, the students and their teacher, Erin Gruwell, inspired by the stories of Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic, began keeping journals to chronicle their lives. “We discovered that writing is a powerful form of self expression that could help us deal with our past and move forward.”
So, Alex ran off with his team to get ready for their part of the event and I went and took a seat in the auditorium, not expecting to be impacted much by what I was about to see. These days, I tend to aim low on expectations always hoping to be somewhat surprised. Boy, was I ever!
After Aron Christian, the teacher of the college class who organized the event, explained the purpose of the evening and Change4Change, several of the students stood on top of tables and began reading from journals, scripted from the actual movie I believe, and the actual story, which can be found at The Freedom Writers Foundation website.
I looked down at the pamphlet in my hand and read the Anne Frank quote printed on it’s page “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
As the first girl began reading, talking about her mother who was a “professional alcoholic” and the impact on her tumultuous life, the other students began chiming in, reading from their journals as well. It was as if all of them were speaking at once inside of my head. And suddenly, tears began streaming down my face.
Now remember, I’m in the middle of a college campus auditorium with lights blaring and I wasn’t about to become a spectacle so I wiped away the tears and tried to push them back into my eyes…but I couldn’t stop.
You see, for 13 years I worked as an inpatient therapist on an adolescent inpatient program for kids with drug and alcohol problems. We’re a special group who work with these teens day in and day out, getting to know their families, their probation and parole officers…their innermost secrets. And every single one of them for 13 years journaled for me on a daily basis. I read about rape and molestation. Crystal meth use and binge drinking. Absent fathers and neglectful mothers. I also read about teenage love and hopes for better futures. And sometimes…I even was allowed into their dreams.
And over the years, some of those kids have stayed in my life, contacting me on a regular basis to let me know how their doing. But others, many, many others I’ve lost touch, or they’ve passed away, much is the disease of addiction.
But I know many are success stories and have become productive members of society, improving their lives and, well, improving mine by allowing me to be part of their journey. Because, you see, it’s a powerful thing to see someone change. You can’t be witness to it and not be affected by it yourself. Right now, I know a beautiful, young lady that will be graduating in two weeks who is finishing up her last semester in college by a semester abroad in Italy. I know another who beat all kinds of odds to get a 3.9 in college and is pursuing a degree in substance abuse counseling. I know a young man who works for the treatment center now where I worked and another who is a manager of a major corporation. And many, many more. They have boyfriends, girlfriends and families who respect them.
Wow, how powerful. So thanks guys, for allowing me to be a part of all of that. As my life changes and I take on new ventures, I look back and realize how each one of you molded me into the person I am today. It’s been a wonderful journey…and it’s not over yet.
And as I sat there tonight, and watched the young dancers, so beautiful and eloquent, and the students, so inspired by their teacher, and the models of the fashion show…proud and confident; I realized what each of us has to offer this world and how little it takes to make a positive influence in another person’s life. And then suddenly I’m reminded of another Anne Frank quote that has stuck itself inside my head from a long time ago…”Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”
Help now…because before long it could be too late…because we’re on borrowed time as it is…