By GABRIELLA DRAGONE
PATERSON, NJ – An online fundraising effort is underway to help a Paterson student take a trip to California.
However, for Leilani Fermin, the trip will be about much more than visiting the tourist attractions the West Coast has to offer.
The 12-year-old student-author at Public School No. 16 is the only one from New Jersey who was selected to be a co-author of the upcoming Dear Freedom Writer: Stories of Hardship and Hope from the Next Generation.
Donations, Leilani says in a video on the GoFundMe page set up be her mother, will be used to cover the costs of air and ground travel, food, lodging and educational activities and participation in the three-week symposium associated with the book’s launch.
“Leilani has brought a tremendous amount of pride to School 16 and the entire school district being the only student in the state to be selected for the Freedom Writers upcoming book,” Superintendent of Schools Eileen Shafer said. “I congratulate her on this great accomplishment.”
Shafer thanked Fermin’s teacher, Renee Cleaves Bryant, for mentoring her through the Freedom Writers project. Bryant is a 20-year veteran teacher in the district.
The soon-to-be-released book is the latest protect of the Freedom Writers Foundation, which is rooted in the work of Erin Gruwell. In 1994, Gruwell was a high school teacher in Long Beach who successful taught students who were thought of as “unteachable” by helping them develop writing skills to tell their own stories. All of Gruwell’s students in her Freedom Writers project graduated from high school in 1998, and their stories were published in a book, The Freedom Writers Diary, which became a national bestseller and later inspired a movie starring Hilary Swank.
On March 31, 2021, Fermin was selected as one of 50 student-authors to contribute to the book. Each of the students wrote a letter in which they sought help on sociological issues that were personal to them. The students’ letters were responded to by the original Freedom Writers and Freedom Writer Teachers who have personally been affected by, dealt with, or face the same problem or circumstance as the student they respond to, according to Bryant.