Original ‘Freedom Writer’ tells his story

Manny Scott inspired Mount students with the raw tales of his childhood and his experience as a Freedom Writer on March 6.
photo by Paige Pieranunzi | The Mountain Echo

Manny Scott inspired Mount students with the raw tales of his childhood and his experience as a Freedom Writer on March 6.

Natalia Quintana, News Editor

When Freedom Writer Manny Scott came to the Mount on March 6, he began his lecture with a song. The large audience of students and faculty in Knott Auditorium watched as he sang “If I Can Help Somebody.”


“If I can help somebody,” he sang, “my life is not in vain. If I can help somebody as I travel along, my life is not in vain.”


After the song’s grand finale, Scott said its lyrics define his life’s purpose. Before he began to get into the details of his life story, however, Scott gave the audience a fair warning.


“Don’t assume that the things I talk about took place in a place far away,” Scott said. “Because of the lens in which I see the world, chances are I might say something that might make you uncomfortable. Chances are it might unsettle you a little bit.”


Manny Scott’s background most closely resembled that of Marcus, one of the characters in the 2007 movie “Freedom Writers,” starring Hilary Swank and Patrick Dempsey. During Scott’s childhood in Los Angeles, he was a witness to the murder of his mother at the hand of his stepfather, and became a victim of brutal domestic violence. At the age of 11, he was using drugs, stealing cars, breaking into homes and getting tattoos. At 16 years old he was homeless in the city and sifting through dumpsters for food.


“I was the kid who took all those issues with me to school,” he said.


That all turned around on the day he sat on a park bench beside a man who was on a similar path as Scott. The man told Scott he was loved and that it wasn’t too late for him to turn his life around. The talk prompted Scott to take hold of his life and look to the future. He became one of Erin Gruwell’s English students at Woodrow Wilson High School, otherwise known as the Freedom Writers. He eventually befriended Gruwell, whom he affectionately called “Ms. G” throughout his lecture. He was the first person to graduate from high school in his family, and after much prodding from “Ms. G,” Scott applied to and was accepted to the University of California, Berkeley.


“Sometimes, the only reason you keep going forward is because you can’t go back,” Scott said, tears running down his face. “I want to encourage you and let you know that you can get through the night.”


According to SGA member Emily Davis, the lecture did not end there. A long line of students and faculty nearly stretched from the Knott Stage to the top of the auditorium steps, and Scott did not leave until he had spoken to each and every one of them. Dr. Paula Whetsel-Ribeau, special assistant to the president for community leadership, even ordered pizza for the speaker and those that stayed after the lecture.


The lecture took place thanks to a collaboration between the SGA and the Mount’s Inclusive Excellence Committee, whose members include Chianti Blackmon, director of the Center of Student Diversity.


“I think this [event] just adds to the beautiful tapestry that we are building in this very inclusive and accepting campus,” said Blackmon. “I hope Mount students learned that no matter what that obstacle it is that they overcome — that it holds value.”


What makes this event unique was the driving force behind it. It was not a faculty member but a student who resolved to bring Scott to campus. SGA member Emily Davis is in charge of the Student Diversity cabinet in the SGA and first made connections with Scott after communicating with another Freedom Writer via Twitter.


“I was not expecting the huge personal investment he took in each individual that he spoke to,” said Davis, who exchanged contact information with Scott and still keeps in touch with him. “And he did give us a ride to Bicentennial on his way out,” she laughed. “He was very kind.”


Before concluding the lecture, Scott shared some experiences he’s had with people who were in circumstances similar to his own when all seemed hopeless. Individuals varying in race, social class and educational levels who have been suffering in situations like domestic violence and depression oftentimes come to Scott for help and motivation. Scott encouraged the audience to reach out helping hands toward such people and show them compassion.


“One act of love, one conversation on a park bench, one gesture of love from a teacher is enough to change the trajectory of someone’s life. The way you love people is enough to make them thirsty to live life,” Scott said.

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