Rapper SaulPaul encourages Franklin students to make change

  • Rapper SaulPaul performed at Franklin High School as a stop on his nationwide tour on Tuesday Nov. 15, 2022. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

  • Rapper SaulPaul performed at Franklin High School as a stop on his nationwide tour on Tuesday. Eileen O’Grady / Monitor staff

  • Rapper SaulPaul performed at Franklin High School as a stop on his nationwide tour on Tuesday Nov. 15, 2022. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

  • Rapper SaulPaul performed at Franklin High School as a stop on his nationwide tour on Tuesday. Eileen O’Grady / Monitor staff

  • Franklin High School counselors Melissa Fraley (left) and Lynn Anderson pose for a photo with SaulPaul at the American School Counselor Association conference in Austin, Texas. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 11/15/2022 6:12:54 PM

Grammy-nominated rapper SaulPaul walked among a crowd of juniors and seniors sitting on the bleachers in the gym at Franklin High School, and asked them to provide examples of actions they could take to “be the change,” or make a positive difference in their community.

One student suggested picking up trash and litter, while another student suggested holding the door open for somebody. Another student suggested donating to charity, while another said it’s important make sure that people who are struggling feel seen and heard.

“You need to start thinking about how you as a campus can give back, to ‘be the change,’ whether you have a sock drive, whether you have a note-writing session and go drop them off for those that need encouragement, whether you have a food drive, you come up with some way to give back to your community,” SaulPaul said.

The Texas rapper/singer-songwriter spoke to Franklin students Tuesday during the 13th week of his “Be The Change Challenge” tour, where he is visiting 100 cities in 32 states.

SaulPaul, who calls himself a “musician with a message,” told students about his own backstory, how he grew up without a mother or a father, and was placed in the foster care system. He talked about how he ended up incarcerated at age 20 after being convicted of four felonies, and then turned his life around, graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a 4.0 GPA, launched a bottled water company and a sneaker company, and became a touring musician and inspirational speaker who has been on “America’s Got Talent” and given several TED Talks.

“I realized life is the sum total of the choices you make,” SaulPaul said. “I wasn’t in prison because of something external, it was all me. I made bad choices. I realized if I change my choices, I can change my life.”

It’s an origin story that’s different but not totally unfamiliar for students at Franklin High School, where 16% of the student body has had a parent or other adult in the family be incarcerated, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Many Franklin students come from families that have been impacted by poverty, trauma and New Hampshire’s opioid crisis, and an increasing number are being raised by grandparents or siblings.

SaulPaul picked Franklin to be one of the stops on the tour after school counselors Lynn Anderson and Melissa Fraley submitted a form requesting that he come speak to students. Anderson and Fraley first met SaulPaul in July when they attended the American School Counselor Association’s annual conference in Texas, where he was one of the keynote speakers.

“He was incredibly engaging and had a story of hope that we immediately knew we wanted to share with our students,” Anderson said.

SaulPaul presented twice at Franklin High Tuesday, first for freshmen and sophomores and then for juniors and seniors. During each presentation, SaulPaul performed a freestyle rap song, using an acoustic guitar and looping station to create a backing track while incorporating words suggested by the students. He also brought a group of students and staff members in front of the audience with him to learn and perform a dance, and encouraged them to take turns showing off their freestyle moves.

Principal David Levesque said SaulPaul’s message fits into the work Franklin High has been doing around school culture and climate, and getting students engaged with the community.

“SaulPaul was very engaging, and he was truthful and honest with the students and I think it’s always good for our students to hear,” Levesque said. “It’s an opportunity for our students to do something and hear somebody that’s different than their typical speakers.”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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