Griffen Saul: Empowering youth leaders through On the Table

Griffen Saul, a Tufts University graduating senior, is passionate about making a difference in society. At age 21, Saul, a triplet, helps empower other young people, including his two siblings, to be change agents in society.  

“I strongly, strongly believe that we are the generation that’s going to make the change and need to make the change,” Saul said. 

Through We Are Able, an organization Saul founded in 2016 as a tribute to his father who died from Multiple Sclerosis, Saul mobilizes young people to raise awareness about issues facing people with disabilities and to advocate for other progressive issues, like paid internships for youth, and more recently, policing reform. 

Though his graduation is six months away, Saul, of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, is not scrambling over job applications just yet. Instead, the Newman Civic Fellow and Tisch Scholar is focusing his attention on organizing new civic initiatives. 

Currently, Saul is organizing five virtual On the Table conversations during the holiday season to encourage conversations that he says are traditionally uncomfortable for people, like himself, who are from privileged backgrounds. The conversations will focus on specific topics, like race relations, policing and youth safety, and barriers faced by people with disabilities, and will be led by people who are well-versed in those subjects. 

“In order to make change, we need to start by having conversations,” said Saul. “By having diverse conversations we’re really able to hear different voices, address root causes and ultimately brainstorm, ideate and actualize plans to make communities better.”

On the Table, an annual forum of The Chicago Community Trust, invites residents from diverse backgrounds to gather over mealtime conversations to build personal connections and explore how they can work together to make the Chicago region stronger. A major focus of this year’s On the Table, held in collaboration with the Illinois Department of Human Services’ new Healing Illinois initiative, is racial injustice.

Saul pegs his upcoming On the Table events “Be Uncomfortable” conversations, named after the weekly Instagram Live broadcast he created during the time of social unrest following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. The broadcast features interviews of young leaders on various topics, including race relations, LGBTQ matters and environmentalism.

“Griffen Saul is what we call a veteran On the Table host. His ability to mobilize young people, spur them to action and encourage their leadership is nothing short of incredible,” said Daniel Ash, assistant vice president of community impact at The Chicago Community Trust.

Saul has been organizing On the Table conversations ever since he was a junior at Lincoln Park High School. In fact, to address the pandemic’s impact on communities of color, Saul organized a virtual On the Table discussion last May with his fellow colleagues in Chicago200, a youth leadership program of The Chicago Community Trust, in partnership with Common Purpose.

That discussion inspired Saul to recently create the Chicago Youth Council For Police Accountability, which will connect the Chicago Police Board to youth from marginalized communities who want a voice in policing reform. Applications are now being accepted from people ages 15 to 25 to serve a one-year term on the 11-member council and receive a $500 stipend. Saul will serve as an advisor to the council, which is expected to be up and running in January 2021.  

Saul hopes that the upcoming On the Table conversations that he’s organizing will also lead to other tangible outcomes beyond the Chicago Youth Council for Police Accountability.

“These conversations are just a starting point. There’s work to be done after them,” Saul said. “So my hope for these conversations and hope long term is that we turn these conversations into tangible actions,  and turn these ideas, these passions, these discomforts into comfort.”

Pictured Above: Griffen Saul