Saul Flores, a philanthropist, photojournalist and storyteller, gave the keynote address at the annual Social Justice Summit hosted by the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement.

During the keynote on March 15, Flores shared stories about his humble beginnings in Brooklyn, New York; travels from Ecuador to North Carolina; and a service-learning trip to his mother’s hometown in Atencingo, Mexico, that changed his life. Throughout his presentation, Flores showcased photos to accompany the stories, adding a visual element.

As the son of undocumented migrants, Flores discussed the adversities he faced growing up with limited resources. He reflected on the financial barriers his parents overcame to provide a better life for him and his siblings, referring to the experience as “love rooted in sacrifice.”

There was a collective moment of vulnerability when Flores asked attendees to take a moment and think about a person who sacrificed something for them, then share that story with others at their table.

“The reason I wanted you all to share is because I wanted you all to see how diverse we are as people and how important it is for us to celebrate those differences. I think those differences shape our stories,” said Flores. “I believe every person has an incredible story to tell and that story is the most valuable asset that we own.”

Attendees participated in group activities during the keynote address at the Social Justice Summit, where they reflected on goals and moments of sacrifice.
Attendees participated in group activities during the keynote address at the Social Justice Summit, where they reflected on goals and moments of sacrifice.

On a service-learning spring break trip to Atencingo, Flores visited the elementary school his mother attended and saw it was in desperate need of repairs. Flores was inspired to help the children and raise funds to reconstruct the school.

This led Flores to create the project “The Walk of the Immigrants” to help fundraise for the school. Flores had four goals for the project:

  1. Walk across Latin America like a migrant, from Ecuador to North Carolina, across 10 countries to raise awareness about migration.
  2. Photograph the journey and use those images to introduce Latin American immigrants to different parts of the U.S.
  3. Sell the photographs and use the proceeds to help reconstruct the school in Atencingo.
  4. Make it home from the journey.

Attendees were given the opportunity to relive the walk with Flores and gain a deeper understanding of the struggles, hardships and hope some immigrants experience on their journey to the U.S.

“What started off as an idea, evolved into something so much bigger than myself,” said Flores. “It evolved into a story around my community.”

In addition, there was a moment of self-reflection when Flores asked attendees to think about a moment when they, or someone they know, had to work toward a goal that seemed impossible but was accomplished. Participants then reflected on that moment and the emotions they felt.

Flores explained how attendees could harness the power of grit to work toward purpose-driven goals. He shared the “10 rules of grit” that outlined how they could find passion and perseverance toward their goals and giving back to their communities.

Flores shared a message of hope and perseverance. His keynote highlighted the importance of giving back and overcoming adversities while showcasing to attendees how to connect their passions to purpose.