United Logo 'Freedom Writers' Highlight UNITED Conference

Students involved in the original “Freedom Writers” diary project that served as the basis for a Hollywood movie by the same name will give a presentation as part of the UNITED Conference at NMU. The conference runs Sunday, Sept. 27 through Thursday, Oct. 1. All events, with the exception of the Junoon concert, are free.

Teacher Erin Gruwell gave some “unteachable” inner-city kids at a Los Angeles school their own voice by having them journal their experiences, emotions, challenges and triumphs. They also discovered how writing helped Anne Frank cope with her situation hiding from the Nazis. The students called themselves the Freedom Writers after learning about the Freedom Riders who fought against segregation during the Civil Rights Movement. When they began writing these entries as a simple English assignment, they had no idea that they would one day be collected and published in a book, The Freedom Writers Diary. The presentation will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28, in the Great Lakes Rooms of the University Center.

The following featured presentations will also take place in the Great Lakes Rooms:

Sarah Vazquez will give the opening keynote at 8 a.m. Monday, Sept. 28. She is a heartwarming, uplifting, humorous and inspirational spokesperson for people with disabilities. Her talks are a mix of her Puerto Rican heritage and her life experiences. According to her Web site, Vazquez was born and raised in Newark, N.J. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of four. Sarah’s mother raised her mindful of two major facts: the fact that rice and beans could not be missing from the dinner table due to her Puerto Rican culture; and the knowledge and awareness that she could do anything she put her mind to. She is a graduate of Rutgers University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and English. She works as a support coordinator at Neighbours Inc. and is also editing her autobiography.

Native American artist Sam English would never describe himself in that timeworn phrase, “the tortured artist,” but he truly is ... or was. He spent the first 40 years of his life running from art, embracing alcoholism in his run from the creative. English has spent the first chapters of his life as an alcoholic, the later chaptersthe ones of deep creativityas an artist and an activist in the healing work of the recovery movement. He will discuss his new book, his work and his efforts working to help people get past their addictions at his 7 p.m. presentation on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

Salman Ahmad, guitarist and composer for Junoon (see related article), will discuss his experiences as a United Nations goodwill ambassador at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30. Ahmad is a doctor by training and a rock musician by profession. He works with the UN to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS in South Asia. With Junoon, he has been increasingly involved in humanitarian efforts, playing at such events as the Building Human Rights Culture Galathe Empower Peace program with students in Pakistan and fundraising for Hurricane Katrina victims. He has produced two documentaries: The Rock Star and the Mullahs, which tracks his visit to the northern Pakistani town of Peshawar, where he directly challenges the local Muslim clergy who have banned all forms of music; and Muslims in America: It's My Country Too, which uncovers the authentic spirit of American Muslims and their experience wrestling with the personal and social consequences of the 9/11 attacks.

The full conference schedule is still being finalized. Visit UNITED for an updated events listing.


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Updated: September 8, 2009

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