Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Be the Change: A Story of Transformation (A Memoir) - Saul Paul

Summary:  SaulPaul is a musician with a message.  SaulPaul had to overcome a deceased mother, a father who abandoned him, poverty and prison just to survive.  Still, he transitioned from tragedy to triumph....through concerts, keynotes, and coaching, SaulPaul has impacted more than 1 million lives.  SaulPaul chose to BE THE CHANGE. This is his story, in his words.  (Summary from back of book - Image from musicconnections.com - Book given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

My Review: Adam's life was far from easy; he grew up fatherless in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Houston, TX and was orphaned at the age of three, when his mother died in a tragic accident.  Although he was raised by an attentive and loving grandmother, Adam still faced a life of just-getting-by, surrounded by gang violence and drug activity.  He was smart and motivated, which helped him do well in school, but also got him in trouble on the streets.  His grandmother was determined to keep him away from that life, but her death in his late teens sent him headlong into a downward spiral of bad choices and criminal activity.  Although Adam was able to gain admission to the University of Texas in Austin, he continued to spiral and, within three semesters, was placed on scholastic probation and subsequently suspended.  Five months later, after a bout of homelessness and crime, Adam landed -- hard -- in prison, where he learned some powerful lessons that he shares throughout the book. Spoiler alert: Eventually, Adam was released on parole and was able to overcome new challenges, realize his passion, and find his purpose as SaulPaul.

While Be the Change isn't overly spiritual, the author does have his own come-to-Jesus conversion which is pivotal to his transformation and his chosen moniker.  Those familiar with the Bible will recognize the name Saul as a man who persecuted believers until he met Christ on the road to Damascus and dedicated his life to serving the Lord. In the Bible, Saul was sometimes called Paul and we know him best as Paul the Apostle.  Knowing this, the author's choice of the name "SaulPaul" speaks volumes and calls to mind a man who lived two different lives and was utterly transformed through his experiences and his commitment to Christ. 

Be the Change: A Story of Transformation was a quick and easy read.  The writing felt conversational, as if I was sitting across from the author listening to his life story and the lessons he learned through his experiences.  SaulPaul is up front about his own writing style, opting to write the book the way that he speaks, frequently using common slang and a few words or terms of his own creation.  From a stylistic perspective, I've read more eloquent narratives, but the overall message is top notch and one of my favorite parts of the book.  

SaulPaul addresses the difficulties that he faced throughout his life, but always brings the conversation around to the wisdom and personal insight he gained during those times.  In prison, he had an epiphany:
"Never in a million years did I picture myself in prison.  Still, there I was.  My approach to life was being challenged.  Lucky for me, I've always been real -- even with myself.  So instead of getting shook, I was sharpened.  I had to look in the mirror and deal with the fact that my life choices landed me in this position.  I had to deal with the fact that I had obstacles in my life that I didn't know how to overcome.  And finally, I had to deal with the reality that there was a problem with the way I approached life."
Even though we come from different backgrounds, SaulPaul's message of hope, faith, inspiration and empowerment transcended those differences and was relatable even in my own circumstances.  It served as a reminder that no one is too far gone and we all have the power to change our lives.

I appreciated the opportunity to read Be the Change: A Story of Transformation, and the perspective it offered.  Throughout the book, SaulPaul subtly highlights the challenges that a large percentage of African American youth face.  Reading about his experience helped me gain a greater understanding of what it was like to grow up in an area where every person he knew was either poor, dead, or incarcerated. It was eye-opening to realize that certain 'opportunities' came with their own set of drawbacks.  SaulPaul's intelligence landed him in the gifted and talented program at his school, which put him in a classroom with students (mostly white) from completely different backgrounds.  In his words,
"Outside the classroom, we didn't have much in common. They didn't live in my neighborhood.  They didn't share my struggle or experience.  They weren't poor like me.  They had moms and dads.  Most weren't African American. It was like I would go to school, get to class, and feel like I was on a totally different planet. ...But when I went home, back to my neighborhood, I returned to the familiar.  Poverty, police, pistols, pimps, and prostitution. Gang bangers, dope dealers, and hope killers.  I lived in the land of low expectation."

That passage really struck a chord and made me very aware of my own personal privilege. These and other sobering observations about the prospects of black youth and the 'pipeline' that seems to funnel black youths from gang-stricken neighborhoods into lackluster schools and on into prison, left me with a lot to process.  

You would think that a story about a young life full of hard knocks would be depressing, but SaulPaul manages to find the good in every situation.  I was consistently impressed by his positivity, resilience and incredible personal drive.  I finished Be the Change feeling both empowered, uplifted, and a little more educated and I would recommend this book to anyone who is feeling battered by life's challenges and needs a little personal inspiration.  

My Rating: 3.75 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some observations about prison life and criminal activity.  All in very G-PG terms.

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