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Tony Becerra is a first generation American, born and raised in Long Beach, California. Tony grew up in poverty with an alcoholic father and busy mother working hard to keep the family together. He was often left to fend for himself. Tony's parents didn't learn English until he was in high school, and he himself didn't learn until he started school.
Often teased and beat up, Tony ended up hating school and doing poorly. By the time he arrived in teacher Erin Gruwell's freshmen English class he had gone to eight different schools as a result of busing and overcrowding. Often chased home by gang members, he was once assaulted to the point of requiring hospitalization and a six month recovery process. Tony grew up amidst violence, and suffered the loss of a close family member to senseless gang violence.
Tony found acceptance in Ms. Gruwell's classroom where students from very different backgrounds learned they were not so different when they really got to know each other. They began writing stories about their lives, which would later be compiled in the book The Freedom Writers Diary. The book- whose cover features Tony as a young student- was later made into the major motion picture Freedom Writers.
Since high school, Tony has worked as an Americorp volunteer in New York, speaking to over 50,000 students and being awarded a Certificate of National Service. He was recently involved with at-risk youth in the GEAR UP program in southern California. He currently works with the Freedom Writers Foundation, speaking to audiences all over the country. Working with youth has inspired Tony and he plans to return to college to earn his teaching credential.