Written by Phil Cerroni
By Will Jukes
Bowie Middle School hosted author and speaker Manuel “Manny” Scott for a series of presentations covering personal adversity, education, and mentoring on Feb. 19. The talks sought to empower students while advising parents how best to support their children in spite of the difficulties they might encounter in their personal lives. Over the course of the day Mr. Scott spoke at two school assemblies, a teacher in-service, and a parent's assembly.
Mr. Scott is notable as one of the original “Freedom Writers,” a group of students whose story, recorded in the 1999 book Freedom Writer's Diary and the 2007 film Freedom Writers, inspired the creation of the Freedom Writers Foundation, an organization dedicated to training educators and empowering students, especially those at-risk for dropping out or poor performance.
Mr. Scott personally tells of growing up in a poor home with an abusive stepfather, receiving little educational support from his mother, and using drugs from an early age, but that with the right guidance he was able to turn his life around. Mr. Scott has since gone on to earn multiple degrees and establish himself as successful writer and public speaker who has brought the message that changed his life to a broader audience. He is currently working on a doctorate in Intercultural Studies at Trinity International University in Chicago.
But despite his association with Freedom Writers and the educational aspect to the message he delivered at Bowie, Mr. Scott sees his mission as having a broader focus.
“I started out just talking about Freedom Writers, and talking about a teacher's impact on our lives and the way we used writing to turn our lives around, but the more I spoke, the more I realized you know what, it's not about Freedom Writers, it's about the needs of these kids...it's about us helping others write the next chapter in their lives.”
In his presentation to parents, Mr. Scott expanded on this with a talk emphasizing the parent's role in providing a stable home environment, caring about education and forming effective partnerships with teachers. He spoke frankly about his experiences living with an abusive stepfather (“I saw him take my mom by the back of her head and shove her head through the window.”) in a household that gave him easy access to drugs and in a family apathetic about his education. He contrasted this with his own experiences raising a family, and tried to impress the importance of parents taking personal responsibility for their own lives, as well as involving themselves in the lives of their children.
Despite the difficulties of coordinating such a large event, teachers and faculty at Bowie Middle School were very excited for the opportunity to host Mr. Scott for the day.
“I've done events something like this, not of this magnitude, so I knew how to coordinate it,” said Connie Cooley, academic specialist at Bowie Middle School. “You need a really good team, and that's what I had.”
Ms. Cooley has been trying to arrange to have Mr. Scott speak at the school since she saw him speak at a National After School Association conference in 2012.
“I knew he had to come speak to our kids.” She also expressed confidence that Mr. Scott's visit will have a lasting impact on the school and the community, saying “We're going to have some results that are quantitative, and also qualitative.”