Monday, February 25, 2008

Manuel Scott, a Freedom Writer

Have you seen Freedom Writers? The character Marcus is partly based on Manuel Scott, a Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) '07 graduate. Manny returned to campus as the guest speaker for all chapels last week. Below is the Freedom Writers movie trailer.

Manuel Scott (MDiv ’07)
Long Beach, California
29-year-old minister and international speaker
These days Manny Scott is best known for something that happened to him in 1994 as a junior in a high school English class.

I was in the ‘reject’ class,” he says, “a class not expected to do much—and in walks this twenty-three-year-old white woman in her Julia Roberts polka-dot dress and white pearl necklace.” After watching the Rodney King riots on television, this first-time teacher, Erin Gruwell, decided she wanted to try to change the world through teaching. She asked to be assigned to one of the worst schools in Long Beach, California, and found herself in Manny’s class at Woodrow Wilson High School. “She was clueless—about drugs, about the drive-by shootings, racism, and many of the painful realities of inner-city life.” Still, Erin worked hard to learn about the students, to show she cared for them, and to help them confront issues of racism and classism through lessons and field trips about the Holocaust. She gave the class an assignment to keep diaries in which to tell their stories. The stories were later compiled into a book, The Freedom Writers’ Diary, published by Doubleday in 1999. In 2006, Paramount released a film, The Freedom Writers, based on the book, starring Hilary Swank. In the film, the character Marcus is based in part on Manny.

Perhaps less well known is what happened to Manny just before he met Erin Gruwell. With a mother struggling to make ends meet, a father in prison for most of Manny’s life, and a stepfather who was an alcohol and drug addict, Manny had lived in twenty-six different places by the time he reached his freshman year of high school. As the family moved from motels to cars and homeless shelters, Manny missed as many as ninety days of school a year. “I had a 0.6 [GPA] the first semester of my freshman year of high school,”

Manny says, “I couldn’t have cared less about school and began to care more about getting high, getting drunk, and getting money.” Then, during the second semester of his freshman year, Manny’s best friend was murdered. The painful loss was too much on top of the other challenges Manny was facing; he stopped going to school.

One afternoon that summer, Manny sat alone on a bench thinking about death. He watched warily as a six-foot-eight-inch man sat down next to him. “You don’t know me, and I don’t know you,” the man told the startled teenager, “but today might be the last day of your life.” The man went on to tell Manny that there was a great God who loved him, who offered a way for him to find life through Jesus Christ, if Manny would give his life to Christ. “God has a plan for you,” the man said, “something much bigger than anything you can imagine.” His heart pounding, Manny asked, “What do I have to do?” The two men prayed together “That prayer marked the beginning of my transformation in Christ,” Manny says today. The man, Mark Stokes, connected Manny with the pastor of a local church. Meanwhile, Manny knew he needed to reenroll in school. He earned a 3.9 his sophomore year, which he held steady through the rest of high school. With encouragement from Erin Gruwell, Manny applied and was accepted into the University of California, Berkeley, where he completed a bachelor’s degree with a double major in political science and rhetoric.

After initially pursuing a career in law, Manny couldn’t ignore a growing urge toward ministry and soon became a discipleship pastor at his Oakland church. As he sat at the Bay Area Sunday School Teachers’ Conference listening to Dr. Robert Evans (PhD ’00), president of Veritas Ministries International, Manny says, “My heart started burning. I had never heard anyone break down the Word of God like that.” Afterward he approached Evans to ask for seminary recommendations, and Evans mentioned Trinity. That fall, Manny and his wife, Alice, moved to Illinois. Manny began a Master of Divinity at Trinity and Alice a Master of Arts in Bioethics.

Meanwhile, as word spread about the Freedom Writers through the book and movie, Manny found himself telling his story everywhere—on television, in high school classrooms, in front of business executives. In 2005, the Lions Club International invited him to Hong Kong to speak before 12,000 delegates from 192 countries. “What’s so amazing is that I was invited over the international president of the Red Cross and the president of Pakistan,” Manny says, chuckling. “When I think about the doors the Lord is opening, I can’t help but think of 1 Corinthians, where Paul reminds believers that God chooses the foolish to confound the wise. Of all the people he could have chosen, he picked the high school dropout with the crazy background to show the world—‘Hey! I’m still changing lives.’” When Manny is invited to share the story of Erin Gruwell’s impact, he tells the whole story, including the transformation that Christ wrought in his life. Sometimes people get up and leave when Manny talks about Christ. Sometimes they tell him beforehand not to mention Christ. “But,” Manny tells them, “if it hadn’t been for Christ, you would never have heard
of me.”

Manny plans next to pursue a doctor of philosophy, even as he continues to tell his story. “God keeps sending me into places that would never be receptive to the Christian message, so I need to be ready to give a meaningful answer.”

© 2007 by Trinity International University

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