June 24, 2017

After losing dad to MS, Chicago teen launches campaign to support people with disabilities

Meet Griffen Saul, one of five teens spotlighted by Allstate at the Aspen Ideas Festival

Griffen Saul with his dad, who died in 2015 after a battle with multiple sclerosis. Griffen launched an initiative that creates awareness about those who live with a disability. Photo courtesy of Griffen Saul


Here on The Renewal Project, we often feature the stories of young people who are making a big difference in their communities. At this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, which runs from June 22 to July 1, Allstate is sharing the stories of five individuals who have made a difference in their local communities, thanks to various organizations that it supports. Read all of their stories here. The Renewal Project is made possible by Allstate.

Before I was born, my father Brad Saul was diagnosed with advanced multiple sclerosis. MS is a disease that can affect the brain and spinal cord and weaken the immune system. As a result, I never got to see him walk, as he was confined to a wheelchair before I was born. Growing up, it was difficult for me to cope with my father having a disability. As I watched my friends play sports with their fathers, I realized from a young age that life is not always fair.

I also learned that when we are faced with daunting circumstances, we are forced to make a choice. Will we let our circumstances define us? Or will we use our pain as a catalyst for change?

This was the most important lesson that my father taught me. He was the archetypal character of a fighter and the personification of resilience. When I was searching for a mechanism to convert the circumstances of my family into a driving force for change, I discovered the power of volunteering.

As I entered high school, my father fell increasingly ill due to his disease. Over the course of two years he would undergo a battle for his life, spending months in and out of the hospital, until he passed away on Dec. 4, 2015. I always tell people that my father didn’t die, he just ran out of days to live. Despite the pain I felt, my experiences with my dad, along with his death, caused me to make a larger change than I was already making. I knew I had to take action in order to carry forward his legacy.

With the assistance of the WE organization, which empowers youth to find their passion and become changemakers, the We Are Able campaign was born. We Are Able raises awareness for people with disabilities by educating people on proper disability etiquette, as well as heightening the empathy of campaign participants through a simulative experience whereby they take the pledge to “live” a day in the life of someone with a physical disability.

Complacency is dangerous. Don’t accept things as they are, instead challenge them and change the existing paradigm to achieve a better reality.

The foundation of this campaign has two pillars: empathy and etiquette. We have all suffered loss or struggled in some way; it is in those moments that we can identify with someone who has experienced similar pain, and we can do something about it. Empathy moves us to a place of courage and compassion, while etiquette is the foundation for how we interact with one another. Both encourage a more accepting, progressive community.

My journey of activism hasn’t always been easy. I’ve had to learn to manage my schoolwork, while dealing with the growing pains of launching an initiative. But it was worth it: on Dec. 3, the International Day for People with Disabilities, I launched the We Are Able Campaign! Nearly 400 students from seven high schools around Chicago took the pledge to participate in the event. Local media covered the event, and 98 percent of participants surveyed expressed an interest in continued participation with We Are Able. The goal of my nonprofit is to help create a society where everyone has the opportunity to succeed and become leaders within their community. The success of We Are Able is just beginning, and as I continue to grow my network and expand my mission, I am eager to see the magnitude of our impact.

For anyone seeking to make a change, I offer three simple steps: 1) Find your passion—we all have something we care about. 2) Find people to support you. My accomplishments are a reality today because of the support of my mentors. 3) Be the change you want to see in the world. Complacency is dangerous. Don’t accept things as they are, instead challenge them and change the existing paradigm to achieve a better reality. Remember, you are never too young to make an impact and define your fate.

Griffen Saul

Founder of We Are Able

Griffen Saul is an 18-year-old from Chicago Illinois. He graduated from the International Baccalaureate program at Lincoln Park High School as one of the top students in his class. At Lincoln Park, Griffen was a four-year varsity athlete in soccer and lacrosse, president of the Best Buddies Club, founder and president of the WE Club, a National Honors Society member, and a Freshman Mentor. He also designed and executed the We Are Able campaign. Griffen will be attending Tufts University in the fall where he plans to continue his commitment to social entrepreneurship, activism, and academic inquiry.
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