University Relations and Communications

Education Activist Erin Gruwell to Headline Annual Power of One Week

January 5, 2015


Award-winning education activist and founder of Freedom Writers Foundation, Gruwell, will deliver the keynote address during the annual Power of One Week at MSUB on Monday, Jan. 19.


Events run from Jan. 19-21; includes special showing of Freedom Writers


Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that the struggle for civil rights is our nation’s collective responsibility. But, the power of an individual to make a difference is inherent within his legacy.


The lasting power of Dr. King’s impact on the American Civil Rights Movement reverberates each year at Montana State University Billings during its Power of One Week, a time dedicated to increasing awareness of diversity, social justice and inclusivity.


With an emphasis on “Change Starts With One,” the weeklong series of events focuses on diversity and equality to honor and reflect on King’s legacy.


The week commences with the national bell ringing ceremony on MLK Day at the Peaks to Plains Park on the university campus. The week concludes on Saturday, Jan. 24, with a university-led service project.


Erin GruellErin Gruwell, educator and catalyst for social change, will spread her message of tolerance and acceptance as the event’s keynote speaker Tuesday, Jan. 20, at 8 p.m.


“My message is very simple,” Gruwell said during a TEDx Talk presentation. “Ordinary people can do extraordinary things and it’s through asking for help and stepping out of your comfort zone and taking risks.”


Gruwell’s impact as an agent of change runs deep. Her story made it to the big screen in the 2007 Paramount Pictures “Freedom Writers,” a movie starring two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank as Gruwell. The film is based on “The Freedom Writers Diary, a New York Times bestseller that chronicled Gruwell’s journey with 150 high school students who had been deemed “unteachable,” and written off by the education system.


She later became a distinguished teacher in residence at California State University-Long Beach, and launched the Freedom Writers Foundation, which encourages teachers around the country to implement her innovative lesson plans into their own classrooms. 


Visiting artist Vanessa German, a Pittsburgh-based sculptor, poet and community activist, will exhibit a new body of work titled “Bitter Root” in the Northcutt Steele Gallery Jan. 14-Feb.26, featuring mixed media sculptures that reference folk art and the transatlantic slave trade, or as she states, “the western coast of Africa, the east coast of the Carolinas, the east-end of Pittsburgh.”


Vanessa GermanIn conjunction with the exhibit, German will give a spoken word performance on Wednesday, Jan. 21, outside of the gallery in the Liberal Arts building, at 4:30 p.m., followed by a reception.


German’s Homewood neighborhood in Pittsburgh has been called “one of America’s most violent neighborhoods.” Her work is a response to gun violence and prostitution that stands in opposition to the community-building and healing words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 


German hosts an Art House in Pittsburgh that aims to create a safe and creative outlet and haven for her neighborhood’s children. She was the 2010 AAP Mendelson Exhibition Award winner.


Presented by the MSUB's Student Activities Board, events are free and open to the public.


Following are highlights of the Power of One Week:


Monday, Jan. 19

Martin Luther King Jr. Ceremony
9:50 a.m., Peaks to Plains Park

National Bell Ringing Ceremony begins at Peaks to Plains Park at the MSU Billings university campus, 1500 University Drive. Guest speaker Pastor Jill Riley will provide a blessing and keynote address. Student Lacey Morgan will speak about the history and purpose of the bell ringing ceremony. Following the bell ringing, participants are invited to proceed to the Student Union Building for refreshments and the remainder of the program.


Tuesday, January 20

Freedom Writers Movie Screening
6 p.m., Petro Theatre

Freedom Writers (2007) stars Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell, a young teacher, who inspires her high school class of at-risk students to learn tolerance, apply themselves, and pursue education beyond high school (
View the trailer for the movie here.


Erin Gruwell Lecture & Book Signing
8 p.m., Petro Theatre with book signing to follow the lecture

Following the screening of Freedom Writers, join us in welcoming Erin Gruwell, the woman who inspired the movie. During her lecture, she will share her story and hold a question and answer session. Ms. Gruwell will also be signing books in the lobby of Petro Theatre following her speaking engagement. Books will be available to purchase at Jackets & Company.


View her TED Talks “Being a Catalyst for Change” or “The Freedom Writers.”


Wednesday, January 21

Martin Luther King 101 Workshop
2 p.m., MCD 163


Vanessa German Performance
Discussion of German’s artwork in relation to tradition of African-American literature at 11:40 in EDU 330 Reception for German at Women’s and Gender Studies Center at 12:45pm in LA 201
Exhibition Dates: January 14-February 26

See also: Northcutt Steele Gallery


Vanessa German is a Pittsburgh-based sculptor, poet, and community activist. She is the 2010 AAP Mendelson Exhibition Award Winner, was included in the 2012 and 2013 Art Basel Miami Beach fairs and recently had a solo exhibition at Pavel Zoubok Gallery in New York City. German hosts an Art House in her community, creating a safe and creative outlet and haven for her neighborhood’s children. Recently, Vanessa was featured on the Meredith Viera Show for her work with the LoveFrontPorch Project.


Thursday, January 22

Tunnel of Oppression
7 p.m., Petro Hall Lobby

Tunnel of Oppression strives to give people a way to experience oppression in a hands-on way. By engaging emotions of the participants, it allows for the accounts expressed in the program to be truly effective.


Saturday, January 24

Service Saturday
9:30 a.m., Meet in SUB Atrium

For information about Power of One Week, contact Kristin Peterman, interim director of Student Union and University Events, at 657-2209 or


Learn more about our featured guests: Erin Gruwell | Vanessa German


""printer-friendly Power of One Week Schedule


""Power of One Week poster


PHOTOS: 1) Erin Gruell; 2) Vanessa German