MACON — Sharaud Moore started his talk at Meridian High School with some poetry.
“Out of the night that covers me,/Black as the Pit from pole to pole,/I thank whatever gods may be/For my unconquerable soul,” Moore boomed, reciting from the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley.
The poem ends with the lines, “I am the master of my fate:/I am the captain of my soul.”
When Moore was a youngster living in some of the roughest areas of Los Angeles County, things like Victorian-era poetry were of little concern. Survival was a daily struggle and occupied his mind much of the time.
“In that neighborhood, you had to grow up hard, and you had to grow up fast,” he said.
He shared stories with the students about his birth to a 16-year-old mother, living for a time in a two-door car, taking care of his two younger brothers and becoming a gang member in the eighth grade. Moore described his childhood self as a “bad kid” who attended 13 elementary schools, four middle schools and three high schools. In the 10th grade, Moore was expelled for bringing a gun to school. He found himself in Erin Gruwell’s English class at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, Calif.
The rest, as they say, is history, immortalized in the 2007 film “Freedom Writers,” which tells the story of Gruwell’s work to bring together and inspire her class of at-risk students facing the pain of poverty, racism, violence and other struggles.
The movie is based on the book “The Freedom Writers Diary,” which tells the story of the class’ transformation into a safe, hopeful, uplifting environment through diary entries written by Gruwell and the students.
In her opening entry, Gruwell tells a story about Moore, who was the subject of a racist caricature drawn by a classmate. The incident was a catalyst for the Freedom Writers movement, which taught the students about acceptance, respect and self-expression.
Meridian sophomores do a unit on the Freedom Writers in their English classes. They welcomed Moore, 37, Wednesday as part of a three-year effort to bring him to the school.
Sophomore Tre Hoff served on the event committee and introduced Moore to the students, teachers and guests, who were clad in T-shirts commemorating the event. Hoff said he was inspired by the Freedom Writers’ story.
“Their lives were very tough, and they all had different backgrounds, and they came together,” he said. “… We have such a small community, and we really need to stay together because we all know each other — a very loving community — and if we can get closer in any way possible, that would be great.”
Meridian English teacher Sheila Moore said she was inspired by Gruwell’s story and teaching style and sought to bring that inspiration to her classroom.
“I decided, ‘That’s what I want to be. That’s the teacher I want to be like,’ ” she said.
The unit is in its sixth year at Meridian.
“We’ve had tons of change,” she said, citing compassionate classroom discussions. ” … They open up. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they hug, and for that time period, they are very supportive of each other.”
Sheila Moore said she was excited to see her school so unified Wednesday.
“This was the single largest honor that I will probably ever have in my teaching career,” she said.
Sharaud Moore went on from Gruwell’s class to pursue an education, and his life’s journey took him back to the classrooms in which he used to make trouble. He works as a teacher and coach in Long Beach and travels for speaking engagements.
“An educator molds the future,” he said. “That is their sole purpose.”
Young people have a need to fit in, be loved, find their place in life and grow and nurture their talents, he said. Even in the face of difficult circumstances, true educators never give up on their pupils.
“Tough times don’t last,” Moore said in his talk. “Tough people do.”
He said he first fell in love with teaching when he started to see the impact he had on his young students.
Educators help young people learn to articulate their feelings, goals and dreams and encourage them to do their best.
“Communication draws the pictures to your soul,” he said, explaining the power of putting truth into words. ” … That was one of the great things about being in the Freedom Writers. Even if you chose not to verbalize it, you could write it down. Because when you write, there are no half-truths.”