Speakers

Erin Gruwell

Erin Gruwell is a teacher, an education activist, and the founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation. She created the Freedom Writer Methods, a progressive teaching philosophy and curricula designed to achieve excellence from all students. She maintains a steadfast commitment to the future of education, and her impact as a change agent runs deep. By fostering an educational philosophy that values and promotes diversity, Gruwell transformed her students’ lives. She encouraged them to re-think rigid beliefs about themselves and others, reconsider daily decisions, and ultimately re-chart their futures. With Gruwell’s support, they chose to forego teenage pregnancy, drugs, and violence to become aspiring college students, published writers, and catalysts for change. They dubbed themselves the “Freedom Writers” -in homage to civil rights activists The Freedom Riders–and published a book. Inspired by Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic (who lived through war-torn Sarajevo), Erin and her students captured their collective journey in The Freedom Writers Diary. Through poignant student entries and Erin’s narrative text, the book records their “eye-opening, spirit-raising odyssey against intolerance and misunderstanding.” In early 2007, Teach With Your Heart, Erin’s powerful memoir and call to arms was published. While Erin has been credited with giving her students a “second chance,” it was perhaps she who changed the most during her tenure at Wilson High School. She decided to channel her classroom experiences toward a broader cause, and today her impact as a teacher extends well beyond Room 203. Erin founded the Freedom Writers Foundation where she currently teaches teachers around the country how to implement her innovative lesson plans into their own classrooms. Recently, Erin’s teaching methods from her time in Room 203 have been published in the Freedom Writers Diary Teacher’s Guide. Proceeds from the sale of all books directly fund the Freedom Writers Foundation. Erin and her students have appeared on numerous television shows, including Oprah, Prime Time Live with Connie Chung, Barbara Walters’ The View, and Good Morning America, to name a few. Erin and the Freedom Writers have earned them dozens of awards including the prestigious Spirit of Anne Frank Award. Erin is a graduate of the University of California Irvine, where she received the Lauds and Laurels Distinguished Alumni Award. She earned her Master’s Degree and teaching credentials from California State University Long Beach, where she was honored as Distinguished Alumna by the School of Education.

Dr. Michele Borba

Michele Borba, Ed.D. is an internationally renowned educator, award-winning author, and parenting child expert recognized for her solution-based strategies to strengthen children’s character, resilience, and reduce peer cruelty. A sought-after motivational speaker, she has spoken in 19 countries and five continents, and served as a consultant to hundreds of schools and corporations. Clients include Sesame Street, Harvard, U.S. Air Force Academy, 18 US Army Bases in Europe and the Asian-Pacific, H.R.H. the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. and a TEDx Talk: “Empathy Is a Verb.” She offers realistic, research-based advice culled from a career working with over one million parents and educators worldwide.

Dr. Borba is an NBC contributor who has appeared 150 times on the TODAY show and countless shows including Dateline, Dr. Phil, The View, NBC Nightly News, The Doctors, Dr. Oz, Anderson Cooper, MSNBC, Fox & Friends, Countdown, Fox, The Early Show, and CNN. Her work is featured in TIME, Washington Post, Newsweek, People, Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times. Reader’s Digest and Globe and Mail. Dr. Borba is recognized globally for her work in bullying and youth violence prevention. She’s a media spokesperson for major corporations including 3M, Office Depot, Unilever, Similac, General Mills, Mastercard, All, Galderma, V-Tech, Cetaphil, Splenda, Walmart, Johnson & Johnson and consultant to Apple TV, McDonalds and Disney.

She is the award-winning author of 24 books translated into 19 languages including Nobody Likes Me, No More Misbehavin’, Don’t Give Me that Attitude!, Building Moral Intelligence, Parents Do Make A Difference, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy, and UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. Her latest book (spring 2021) Thrivers: Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine.

Awards include the National Educator Award (presented by the National Council of Self-Esteem), National Child Safety Award of 2016 by Child Safety Network, Santa Clara University’s Outstanding Alumna Award, Outstanding Contribution to the Educational Profession by the Bureau of Education and Research and a 2016 SHORTY nominee for “Best Social Media Influencer in Parenting.” She was named Honorary Chairperson for Self-Esteem in Hong Kong, consultant for the Character Education and Civic Engagement for the U.S. Dept of Education, Disney Influencer, and Goodwill Ambassador for M.I.T.’s One Laptop per Child project. Board memberships include Parents, Character.org, Child Safety Network, Boys & Girls Club of America, USTA Sportsmanship Committee. Her proposal: “Ending School Violence and Bullying” (SB1667) was signed into California law in 2002.

Dr. Borba is a former classroom and special education teacher with a wide range of teaching experience, including work in a private practice with children with learning and emotional disabilities. She received a Doctorate in Educational Psychology and Counseling from the University of San Francisco, an M.A. in Learning Disabilities and B.A. from the University of Santa Clara, and Life Teaching Credential from San Jose State University.

Steve Bollar, M.A.

Steve Bollar, aka “Stand Tall Steve” is an educational thought leader and master motivator. He works with forward-thinking organizations to generate new ideas, improve climate/culture and maximize leadership skills. His quick wit, experience, and in-depth knowledge make him an in-demand speaker. Steve has experienced first-hand the importance of a healthy school culture as teacher, principal and superintendent. He is a member of the Jostens Renaissance Hall of Fame and was named one of South Jersey’s Top 20 Men of the Year. Steve is the author of Ideas, Ideas, Ideas, which has helped schools throughout North America improve their culture.

Dr. Tommie Mabry

Tommie Mabry grew up in poverty in Jackson, Mississippi. With no one to serve as a model for mainstream success, Tommie turned to life in the streets. He was expelled from numerous schools and by age 11, he was serving time for burglary. Things started to change for Tommie when he joined an AAU basketball team that traveled around world. Although he was shot in the foot during his senior year in high school, he received a full basketball scholarship to Missouri State University. After completing his undergraduate studies at Tougaloo College, he taught school in the same district where he had been expelled numerous times. Subsequently he has served as Director of Enrollment at Tougaloo College before founding the company that bears his name. He earned his Ph.D. from Jackson State University and has published two books, A Dark Journey to a Light Future and If Tommie Can Do It, We Can Do It.

Tracie Berry-McGhee, M.Ed, NCC, LPC

Tracie Berry-McGhee founded the SistaKeeper Empowerment Center in St. Louis 12 years ago with the mission of inspiring and developing the mind, body and spirit of young women. SistaKeeper has since spread to other locations within the United States and several other countries. Tracie also continues to serve the community via her private counseling practice, which specializes in women and teen girl issues. She is often called upon to speak on topics such as conflict resolution, delaying with low self-esteem and bullying. Tracie is the author of SistaKeeper Poetry for the Soul, I’m a Keeper and OWN your NOW.

social emotional learning larry thompson

Larry Thompson, M.Ed.

Author of Roadmap to Responsibility and Give ‘em Five, Larry Thompson, M.Ed., is often called upon to deliver keynote presentations for state and national education conferences because of his knowledge, humor and passion for assisting today’s students. He has helped thousands of educators and schools throughout North America break away from their traditional discipline models to a model that creates a responsible climate and responsible students. Larry has served in a wide variety of roles in education – from special education teacher to alternative and traditional high school principal. As creator of the Responsibility-Centered Discipline program, Larry understands that systems must be created that can be realistically implemented and sustained.