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Maria Reyes was born in East Los Angeles and comes from a family with a strong gang heritage-both her father and grandfather were gang members. When she turned eleven, Maria was jumped into a gang, making her a third generation gang member. Maria was in and out of juvenile detention centers for the better part of her teenage years.
After losing over 20 friends to gang violence during the summer before her freshman year, Maria's probation officer enrolled her at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach. With below-average test scores, Maria was placed in Erin Gruwell's English class where she continued to fight her teacher's relentless attempts to engage her in learning. Reading the Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank marked a turning point for Maria, as she found herself in the pages of a book for the first time ever. Maria and her classmates began writing in diaries that were later compiled and published in a number one New York Times best-selling book- The Freedom Writers Diary.
Since then, Maria has traveled across the country speaking to educators, at-risk youth, and community leaders about the power of education and the need to give students a second chance. She has appeared on PrimeTime Live with Connie Chung, and the Rosie O'Donnell Show. Maria earned her Bachelor's Degree from California State University Long Beach in 2005, and plans to pursue a Master's in Urban Education. In 2007 Maria was portrayed as main character Eva in the movie Freedom Writers.