Reyes said the teacher was Mrs. Erin Gruwell, a new English teacher fresh out of college. It was the fall of 1994.
Originally, Reyes said, the entire class hated Gruwell until the young teacher realized she couldn't teach them like any other class. Reyes said she would instead praise them.
One day Gruwell spotted a note passed to a student and she confiscated it. The note contained a racist caricature about blacks. Reyes said Gruwell was instantly reminded of Nazi's caricatures of Jewish people as rats. She told the class that the note reminded her of the Holocaust.
Gruwell was amazed as a student raised their hand and questioned, "What's the Holocaust?"
Still in shock, the teacher asked, "How many of you have been shot at?"
Reyes said Gruwell's heart broke for them when every student raised their hand.
To help the class grow closer and end their hatred, Gruwell had them play the "Line Game." In this game she ran red tape down the center of the room. Then all the student went to separate sides of the room.
When Gruwell asked, "How many of you have access to fire arms?," students would step on the line.
Reyes said the line game helped to show that all the groups in the classroom had something in common. They started to become a family, she said.
Gruwell began taking the class on trips to teach them about the damaging effect of racial violence. In these trips to places such as the Holocaust Museum, Reyes learned to forgive each other.
The students were given journal to write in about anything. Later, they typed their journal entries and decided to submit the story to a publisher. "The Freedom Writers Diary" was published in 1999 and became a best seller.
Today, Reyes has earned a degree in English and intends to follow in the steps of the teacher they called "Mrs. G" and become and English teacher.
Reyes ended the day with words of advice: "No matter what you come from, or what you do in life, if you make the commitment to change you are a Freedom Writer."
Rachael Johnson is an eighth-grader at North Martinsburg Middle School in Martinsburg, W.Va. She loves art and writing.