Neal Sáles-Griffin is an entrapreneur, teacher, and an educational leader born and raised in the Chicago South Side.
Mr. Griffin is the current CEO of CodeNow, a national nonprofit teaching young people how to code in order to solve problems and become creators of their own future. Professor at Nortwhestern, University of Chicago Booth, and teacher for the Chicago Public Schools empowering high schoolers with skills from software development to business creation basics in the tech field, Mr. Sáles-Griffin is a 30yo running as a Chicago mayor candidate as an outsider, but one who comes from the community in times where being a poilitical outsider means coming from the entertainment field. You can read more about his projects, resumé and platform, by visiting nealformayor.com.
"There's no them, there's no media, there's no government. It's up to us. I just realized I can't complain about anyhthing, because I'm aware of the problem now."
— Neal Sàles-Griffin
Photo: Andrew A. Nelles
N. Sàles-Griffin (guest): It's up to us, there's no thing, there's no media, there's no government, there's no politician, it's us. If we're okay with some neighborhoods getting a lot of resources and other neighborhoods basically just like deteriorating, then we're letting it happen and if there's something different that we want to happen here then we're going to have to do something about it. So, we have to step up and do something about it and we can't ask for permission, we can't wait our turn, we can't hope that the people who are in power now are going to do the right thing, they're not. We have to take control, we have to take responsibility for the situation, that's it, I just realized that I can't complain about anything because I'm aware of the problem now. And I realize that I have shared responsibility to do something about it, so why don't I, so that's why we're here.
Simone Salis (host): I am Simone Salis, and this is The Hoomanist with today's guests Neal Sales-Griffin. Neal Sales-Griffin is an Entrepreneur, Teacher and an Educational leader, born and raised in the Chicago Southside and currently CEO of Code Now and national nonprofit teaching young people how to code in order to solve problems and become creators of their own future. Professor at Northwestern, University of Chicago Booth and Teacher for the Chicago Public Schools empowering high schoolers with skills from software development, to business creation basics in the tech field, Mr. Sàles-Griffin is a 30-year-old running as Chicago Mayor candidate as an outsider, but one who comes from the community in times where being a political outsider means coming from the entertainment field. You can read more about his projects, resume and platform by visiting Nealformayor.com. Neal in which neighborhood where you raised here in Chicago, where were you born?
N. Sàles-Griffin: I grew up in both Hyde Park and Kenwood and they're adjacent to each other.
S. Salis: Yeah.
N. Sàles-Griffin: On 49th Street and 52nd Street, so 51st Street is like the cut off between High Park and Kenwood and I spend time in both parts.
S. Salis: In between those parts.
N. Sàles-Griffin: My Mom and my Dad weren't together growing up, so I got to spend time at both of their homes.
S. Salis: What did they do?
N. Sàles-Griffin: So, my Dad was a… he was a Police Officer for over 30 years for Chicago and my Mom worked for Chicago Public Schools.
S. Salis: Okay.
N. Sàles-Griffin: She was for 17 years working as a Special Education Teaching Assistant.
S. Salis: Well so you have two examples of people dedicated to the community.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Yeah they’re city workers, the union and all that stuff, and you know they've been serving people in Chicago their whole life and you know that rubbed off on me.
S. Salis: Are they originally from Chicago or did they move for somewhere else, also from Chicago?
N. Sàles-Griffin: They were both born here.
S. Salis: Okay.
N. Sàles-Griffin: My Mother's family though has origins in Honduras and the Philippines.
S. Salis: Okay and that's your heritage.
N. Sàles-Griffin: That's yeah that's on my mom's side, and my dad's side it's kind of all over the place but he… he's black so you know family here and then obviously they kind of migrated from down south back in the day.
S. Salis: Yeah during the…
N. Sàles-Griffin: So, there's you know a little mixed-up stuff there, I'm going to do some DNA tests to figure out really what’s going on.
S. Salis: Okay let me know which one is the 0.1% of the results that you go like “what?!”.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Yeah you know what actually my, I think my Great-grandfather I have to verify this like I think I have a Grandparent who is Italian.
S. Salis: There you go, well our last names are partially similar.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Oh, yeah that's right.
S. Salis: Sàles and Salis.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Yeah that's right Salis, that’s right, you never know.
S. Salis: You know being an acquired Chicagoan, at first I got here from a country where everybody is white, Catholic, and that's it.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Yes, that’s right.
S. Salis: So, I came here and to me I was like, oh it's so diverse and then if you spend a little bit longer here you go like, it's not necessarily diverse, it’s diverse through segregation.
N. Sàles-Griffin: That's right exactly, so you look at the numbers in aggregate you like, oh wow there's all types of people here sure, but they're all clustered.
S. Salis: Yeah.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Right, you look at a map of Chicago and there's this concentration of black people on the South Side, they are brown people, Hispanic people, Southwest, white people up North like there's this breakdown here that's pretty you know… disappointing.
S. Salis: These are also reflected by the numbers of investment and flood of money?
N. Sàles-Griffin: Yeah, I mean everything's connected so the history of systemic segregation in Chicago, there's this thing called redlining that happened where basically black people weren't allowed to buy homes in certain areas, and were prevented from doing so. And because of that, we have the situation that we continue to have where there's just disproportionate, disinvestment, inequality and this dynamic of people kind of having this very us-versus-them mentality, when what we need right now is unity and we need to be able to say you know what everyone should be comfortable living in any neighborhood in this city.
S. Salis: How was it growing up in you said Kenwood and…?
N. Sàles-Griffin: Hyde Park
S. Salis: Hyde Park
N. Sàles-Griffin: So, those were unique neighborhoods in Chicago.
S. Salis: Why?
N. Sàles-Griffin: Because they are more diverse than what would be the norm, Hyde Park, in particular, is home to the University of Chicago and I think because of that they've drawn in resources and people that would not be you know of the typical background that most of the other neighborhoods have in that surrounding area. So, while I've benefited from that personally because I got to know and got to meet a lot of people who were different than me I think that there is tension there. Because there are a lot of surrounding areas that are struggling that needs support and the contrast in how sought-after Hyde Park as a neighborhood is for many people compared to many other places is a difficult one. So, while I call it home still for me I'm acutely aware of the fact that we need to really redirect our energy in a way that provides better balance towards serving the most underserved.
S. Salis: What fond or strong memory that you have from your childhood growing up in Chicago?
N. Sàles-Griffin: I think probably one of the strongest memories I have is playing in my front lawn on 49th and Drexel with my sister and you know what I call my cousin's Kenneth and Cara. And we're hanging out and we're their hula hooping, we're throwing a ball around and a group of people are walking by our front lawn, and then this guy walks up to them and pulls out a gun and just shoots at him. And he ends up shooting a few people and you know that was the first of many times where people have been shot and killed on my block. And I remember seeing that happen and right away ducking down to the ground making sure my sister and my cousins were safe and crawling our way towards our front door. That is something that sticks with me and I remember when I went to college and you know in 2008 we elected Barack Obama as President the most interesting thing about that for me was the fact that I was like wow this guy has a mansion that's literally three blocks from my house, you know like Barack Obama's mansion was three blocks away from where that shooting happened from where I grew up on 49th Street, and he's right off there on 51st.
S. Salis: Yeah
N. Sàles-Griffin: And to know that the President of the United States lives in this you know really nice home in this pristine area were just a few blocks away people are getting shot and killed, for me is such a personal contrast to the issue that we have in Chicago and in America. Like you know you can have something really nice but right next to it's going to be somebody who's like dying, and that's just unacceptable to me and when I really dug into the systems and how this all worked and what you know I could do about it. It led me down a path that I'm now on but I just those personal stories that people have on the South Side of Chicago all over Chicago for that matter, so important to tell and I know for me I'll never forget those moments and how those experiences shaped my thinking and how I want to go about serving others.
S. Salis: When you were, how old were you?
N. Sàles-Griffin: I was probably eight or nine years old, maybe ten years old.
S. Salis: Did you have anything that you expected to do growing up at that age or slightly older like when in high school, did you… what did you think you would do?
N. Sàles-Griffin: Yeah, well the idea was get good grades and go to college, the what you do when you go, it was less about that and it was more about just getting there.
S. Salis: Okay.
N. Sàles-Griffin: And that was the emphasis for me growing up, now I had my own motivations and things that drove me.
S. Salis: Okay.
N. Sàles-Griffin: To pursue things and enjoy things and consume things, I mean we needed money we didn't have a lot and that was always a factor, not having money.
S. Salis: Okay.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Has put us in a position where we always struggle to make ends meet and in that struggle your motivation is workable. What jobs can I get? What things can I study to get a you know the income? That would pull that fundamentally changed for me when I went to College and I decided to focus on my purpose or at least what I wanted it to be. And I ended up realizing that it was less about money for me and it was more about helping others, so that's what I focused on.
S. Salis: When you went to College at first you started to study Economics, so you started with that and throughout that path, you realized that you wanted to shift your focus and use what you learned to help and transmit that knowledge through to others.
N. Sàles-Griffin: That’s right, and so freshman year I studied Econ and I ended up switching into the school of education and Social Policy.
S. Salis: Okay.
N. Sàles-Griffin: And I studied Organizational Change and in doing that I was able to combine business and econ with disability to basically evaluate and improve the efficiency of organizations and design new ones in ways that made them very effective.
S. Salis: 10: 05: Okay.
N. Sàles-Griffin: And studying those things in school at that time was perfect for me, because that's how I became an entrepreneur.
S. Salis: What is the first-ever project or a business that you were able to put together?
N. Sàles-Griffin: Well my first business that I helped start is still around today and it's very, I guess it's doing very well, what we did is we put LCD screens in Doctor’s offices to educate patients while they wait.
S. Salis: Okay.
N. Sàles-Griffin: So, we were basically having people instead of reading magazines or watching Judge Mathis in the waiting room, they're learning about things that could help them better take care of themselves.
S. Salis: Okay.
N. Sàles-Griffin: From a health perspective and it saves the Doctors lots of time because Doctors tend to repeat themselves and then most of the conversations they have with patients. So, instead, it's like remove the repetition, increase the customized care and provide an environment where people are going to get the resources they need to learn more about their health.
S. Salis: You found the Started League and the Dev Booth Camp to teach anyone to code in a short amount of time, this was before there existed like code boot camps and you know like when people still didn't think that code, how to code to anyone in a short amount of time was actually a visible possible goal.
N. Sàles-Griffin: That’s right
S. Salis: And it looks to me that as your goal you want to teach code so people have more opportunities. But why aren’t those opportunities, are they important on a democratic point of view on a social point of view?
N. Sàles-Griffin: Yeah, let's think about the world around us, right we're using technology right now to process this audio, you're going to be posting this interview online somewhere, you're using your phone to take calls and prepare things, you sent me a calendar invite for this event. All of those things required code to be written in order for us to actually communicate in this way, to reach out to other people and this ever-present resource. This technology that we all use, we don't always give ourselves the full awareness of how intricate and important it is to our daily lives and the moment I made the connection that if I want to be a problem solver, if I want to give as much as I can to the world as possible and serve as many people as I can. Then I'm going to need to understand at least to a certain extent how this works, and how I can wield it to actually do good and greater good and that was my commitment.
And once I made that assessment it was obvious what I needed to do so, I didn't set out to start a school, I taught myself. I gave myself the skills that I thought I needed to start to help other people with this stuff, and in that process, I discovered another opportunity which is that I'm not alone. There are a lot of other people who would be interested in learning these things who don't have the resources to do so yet, and they need help just like I needed help, and that was it was it was problem-solving 101. You can teach the concept in the principles of programming and Computer Science early on, like as a kid as a baby even you can start moving objects around and understanding basic algorithms. But for my kind of concentration, it's all about making sure that there's real-world application to what's being taught, and that there is intrinsic motivation and the learner to actually understand what this material is and how it could help them.
S. Salis: Were you able to see the progress of some of the kids you talk to through the years and see?
N. Sàles-Griffin: Oh my gosh yes, I mean that's what this is all for, the progress like they come in with no idea or they're unsure with their dream or aspiration or hope and they come out and then over time they end up you know starting their own companies, they end up getting their own jobs and paying themselves well and starting families, supporting their family and just pursuing their dreams.
S. Salis: At some point, you must have thought, I have no idea how to run a city but you must have thought, oh I could do that. When was the moment and how do you… like what does a Mayor do? What does a Mayor do? To be honest, like what are the duties that you looked at and went like I think I can do that well, I think I can do that in a constructive way. I think I can do better.
N. Sàles-Griffin: I don't know about the rest of them but I didn't start off saying I wanted to be a Mayor, that was not the journey, that was not my energy, I was trying to figure out why people were leaving Chicago? Why the people who live here aren't happy? Why people are struggling in the city, and what I could do about it? And the reason that all came to be was because I love my city, I love Chicago, I care about it so much. It's my community, it's what raised me, it's where I'm going to spend all of my time because of that I wanted to make sure that it's well taken care of. And it's well-run and what I learned about how it's being run, and how it has functioned for so long, it was really clear that there was a lot more we could do about it than what we were doing. I got really fed up with that and I thought I could take a stab at actually being a part of the solution. I didn't know where, how, immediately but as I started to break down the issues like you could say, oh run for Alderman. Or try to work in a department or you know be a policy person or you know there's all these different avenues that you can be a part of the solution but the lynchpin of the problem actually is within the office of the Mayor.
S. Salis: Why?
N. Sàles-Griffin: Because if you want to get anything done especially to City Council when it comes to legislation when it comes to initiatives, when it comes to economic development when it comes to directing dollars, the Mayor sets the budget. The mayor gets to really influence and dictate what gets done and what gets prioritized and the Mayor essentially empowers the City Council which is problematic in and of itself. Because that's not the intention of Chicago's government, so our government wasn't designed for the Mayor to be this kind of disproportionately powerful individual, we actually have a weak Mayor system, meaning the City Council, your ward representative.
Where we are right now is supposed to be empowered to actually keep the Mayor in check, in collaboration with the rest of the City Council but that's just not how Chicago functions. So, the more I learned about the dynamic of Chicago's politics, the more frustrated I got at how our money wasn't being spent well, because we have a lot of money that we put into the city through taxes but it doesn't get allocated in a way that actually makes it so that you and I understand where it goes and whether it's going to the right place and whatever.
S. Salis: Through transparency…
N. Sales All that stuff so you can look up the reports like you can see you know there's datasets that are available but good luck actually making sense of that I know as a layman.
S. Salis: I’m not able to.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Exactly most of us, that's most people meaning if we don't understand where these dollars are going when you talk about wanting to send your kid to school it's going to affect you, when you talk about wanting to make sure that 911 responds timely when something goes wrong, it's going to affect you. When you talk about wanting to drive down your block and then you know your tire pops in this pothole, it's going to affect you, so this is your life. This is when your trash gets picked up and your water runs clean and all those things are us taking care of our city, it's less about some brilliant you know Messiah of a person being the greatest Mayor of all time.
It's more about citizens stepping up understanding their government, understanding their city and saying you know what let's take turns at making this better in different roles. And we need people who are willing to step up and be servant leaders, who are less interested in playing the game of Chicago politics and who are more interested in making the tough decisions to actually make more progress who care less about them keeping their job and having job retention. And they care more about doing a good job while they're in office and moving on and putting someone else in a position to do even better than they did.
S. Salis**: 18: 10: I am Simone Salis and this is The Hoomanist with today's guests, Neil Sales-Griffin, CEO of Code Now.
Illinois and Chicago seem to have a tradition of political dynasties because there is the Maticans, the Daley’s as Mayor's, Father and Son, the Stevenson's, the Simon, the Hymans, the Jacksons, the Colossian. I mean…
N. Sàles-Griffin: Yes.
S. Salis: It just seems to go on, and on, and on some reason and you know the second Daley would have run for a consecutive third term hadn’t Washington at the time challenged.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Term limits man, this is what I'm talking about like I'm talking about things that aren't exciting to people but if you want to keep talking about what the problems are we keep doing the same thing all over, you know all over again. And here we are in a political environment right now that's term limitless, also it influences day-to-day decision making. Because when you think about the trade-offs you would make as a politician with who you allocate money to, who you provide agency to, who you appoint to different positions. There is going to be this either conscious or subconscious factorization of how is this going to benefit my re-election.
S. Salis: Long-term.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Like, how is this going to help me keep my job? How's it going to help me get reelected? Will this help me or hurt me do that? Because I really want to do that I want to run again, I want to keep my job, I want to be mayor again. What are the decisions I need to make to ensure that that outcome happens? I'll do good to the extent that it makes sure it reinforces that goal?
S. Salis: So, there starts to be a conflict of interest?
N. Sàles-Griffin:: It's a persistent conflict of interest
S. Salis: Okay, what is the current limit?
N. Sàles-Griffin: There's no limit.
S. Salis: It's limitless.
N. Sàles-Griffin: It's limitless.
S. Salis: Like, if I get elected for 50 years in a row.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Yeah!
S. Salis: I'll be the Mayor for 50 years.
N. Sàles-Griffin: That's right, so some people would say, oh we do have term limits, it's an election, right. So, every four years as an election but that doesn't mean anything if over those four years you have a mayor who's building a power, building up favors.
S. Salis: Right.
N. Sàles-Griffin: And Influencing people and building up name recognition it becomes, so difficult to take down an incumbent when those things are in place.
S. Salis: So your point is power consolidates itself when it ever has a chance that is like limitless of…
N. Sàles-Griffin: In Chicago
S. Salis: At a time in Chicago
N. Sàles-Griffin: *: Yeah
S. Salis: So, your goal would be to do two terms, get elected and then do two terms?
N. Sàles-Griffin: That's it.
Salis: Okay and that's your promise like you say like if I get elected I'll do maximum two terms…
N. Sàles-Griffin: That's it.
S. Salis: And then I will…
N. Sàles-Griffin: Someone better than me exactly, what like you got to believe it you've got to believe it. No, I know it I know there's someone better like someone I mean different right.
S. Salis: Yeah
N. Sàles-Griffin: It's hard to even say better but like there's someone else who's going to do a great job.
S. Salis: From a different point of view.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Yeah, with a different point of view, and let them set them up for success.
S. Salis: Maybe one of the kids that you were teaching…
N. Sàles-Griffin: Exactly, I know it; there are kids out there right now. There's a kid in one of our schools, in a Chicago public school right now, who is going to be the greatest Mayor of Chicago that we've ever had.
S. Salis: Did you go to the Chicago Public Schools growing up?
N. Sàles-Griffin: I did; I did I went to both Catholic school and public schools
S. Salis: So, both private and both I did public.
N. Sàles-Griffin: I did.
S. Salis: Okay, and did you notice any difference growing up this is like 20 years ago?
N. Sàles-Griffin: I would say I struggled, in school, I think it was less about it being private or public and it was more about my particular situation and the fact that I did not feel socially comfortable to be my full self in one environment. And when I switched environments and no one knew me I was able to be my full self, it ended up being a major difference for me to be able to switch environments where I was able to almost reset my social reputation. And the difference I'm talking about is in public and private it's people who are in situations that are locked into something bad, something not constructive when they are socially affected by the fact that they don't have an environment where they can be their full self. And I had a family who cared about me and I was able to go home to some version of that most evenings, and I think that's everything I think having that support is going to make one of the biggest differences in a young person's life. And without that support, there's a lot that we need to do to overcome those hurdles of what life is like outside of the classroom for so many people.
S. Salis: Why does money always seem to like float right back into the more wealthy neighborhoods in Chicago you know there is…?
N. Sàles-Griffin: That's obvious right, so you're in a neighborhood where there's a lot of people who have a lot of money.
S. Salis: That is true
N. Sàles-Griffin: And if they're in their neighborhood.
S. Salis: Yeah.
N. Sàles-Griffin:: They want their neighborhood to be better S. Salis : Right
N. Sàles-Griffin: And that's their prerogative and they're right, so they're going to invest in their neighborhood, they're going to support their neighborhood, they're going to try to direct their energy and their resources in a way that improves their environment and their situation.
N. Sàles-Griffin: So, people in wealthy… I have been a Chicagoan acquired Chicagoan for a small amount of time but shouldn't the system something very basic when I go to the South Side, first of all, 90% of it is not what is portrayed by and second thing you do notice a difference in infrastructures and investment from streets to stations. I believe to me to ask that there is a visible difference in that, shouldn't the system balance that kind of public money investment?
N. Sàles-Griffin: Well, here's the thing.
S. Salis: In an equal way in at least for public structures you know and I understand that private ones there might be that reason but the public one should be more balanced.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Here's the thing’ it's up to us, there's no thing, there's no media, there's no government, there's no politician, it's us, So, we have to decide you and I as citizens in Chicago, we own it, this is ours, we all pay in to be a part of this kind of shared ownership of the city. We have to take care of it, if we're okay with some neighborhoods getting a lot of resources and other neighborhoods basically just like deteriorating then we're letting it happen, and if there's something different that we want to happen here. Then we're going to have to do something about it now, one way to meet people where they are is that in some of the more affluent neighborhoods there is an increase in crime, right. Petty crime would have you, carjacking, muggings, things like that robberies, and what's the deal there? What's happening? Why is there crime in these nice neighborhoods? Well, it turns out the people who are committing these acts come from other parts of the city, and they happen to be coming from parts of the city that have not been taken care of. So, one very short-sighted approach would be, all right well let's arrest our way out of this problem, let's hire more cops, that's you know build walls and all this stuff.
But I'm a more of a systems thinker, so I'm trying to think through that and go you know what happened to that individual in their life growing up to put them in a position where they feel like they need to travel across a city and take someone else's possessions or their life. That story is the one that we need to dig into and understand and realize that if we don't support schools in some of the other neighborhoods in areas of the city, it's going to affect everyone. So, we have to step up and do something about it and we can't ask for permission, we can't wait our turn, we can't hope that the people who are empowered now are going to do the right thing, they're not. We have to take control, we have to take responsibility for the situation, what you just asked me and what I just said is a summary of what made me want to run for Mayor. That's it I just realized that I can't complain about anything because I'm aware of the problem now and I have shared responsibility to do something about it, so why don't I? So, that's why we're here.
S. Salis: 26: 01: It looks to me that you're interested in the problem only in the measure that it can be a part of the solution in an active way.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Yes what did I have to complain about you know I'm blessed, and there's so many other people in the world who are struggling more than anybody in Chicago is and I want everything to be better for everyone but I have to start at home. As an entrepreneur and as a problem solver I don't know how to go about life any other way anymore. I don't know how to just go I don't like this so I'm just going to continue to say I don't like it, let me tweet about it, let me post on Facebook about it. No, like that's just not me I don't have any disrespect towards anyone who wants to comment on things and wants to share things in their opinion. I totally understand that but that's just not my constitution, I act, I move, I get things done, I figure out what I can do about it otherwise I move on and I direct my energy, all of my energy towards something I can actually be productive around.
S. Salis: So the one of one of the first things for you seem to be at this point clear education no Ike Evans giving equal opportunities for education in public schools and you seem to believe that he will then give the opportunity to people that give the tools the intellectual tools, the emotional tools, to also lower crime rates
N. Sàles-Griffin: It affects everything else.
S. Salis: Okay yeah,
N. Sàles-Griffin: Education is one of the linchpins to the progress that we need to see in our city and if we make sure that we invest in schools and that we support schools all types of schools. Neighborhood schools, Public schools like all that and that's clear and that's palpable and people believe it and they're excited about the plan to support schools and then make them better that's the environment that we need Chicago to be in right now. That's the culture that we need to have right now I was a city.
S. Salis: While teaching at Columbia College Chicago two high schoolers, I was able to notice that comparing it with my own high school education there is an average much, much less knowledge when you come out of high school. Except you know, there is always one or two kids there yeah that's right there when you when you have a class of 25 kids you notice that there is one or two they're able somehow with their personal resources and passions you have to compensate for what the school is not able to offer and whatever one.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Yeah there you go
S. Salis: Yeah, I was really impressed by there because I thought first like it you know it's just math stuff that I see here it is done during the first year of college. I was taught in like in high school some things or for example it is mandatory when I went to high school it was mandatory for me to do three hours of philosophy every week for five years and I believe how do you see that because I think that like giving the tools coding and math and philosophy are so intrinsically connected especially in other legal towards an age of like machine and ethical choices and that kind of technology is going to affect the society I how do you think also not just with investment in money. How, how should that be reflected in teaching for like classism that kind of stuff?
N. Sàles-Griffin:: My first philosophy class I took was in I was sophomore in college. It was the first time I had to think about how I felt about the death penalty right how I felt about you know the lottery and how it affected lower-income communities. And as I thought about economic investment the dynamic around rational rationality around you know purchase decisions and consumers and all these things and these ideas and, and in perspectives and I think exposure to until I got into this you know fancy university and I will say this though. There are some schools in Chicago that teach that, that you're talking about that's what but it's not good enough because there's just some schools. So the issue we have right now is we're not being completely upfront and honest about our situation. We like to brag about the schools that are great but then we just don't really talk about the schools they struggle and that is an individual based school by school, classroom by classroom, principal by Principal and if you take the time to break that down there are systemic, widespread, policies that we can start to put in place that gives people more opportunity in each school.
S. Salis: What's an example?
N. Sàles-Griffin: An example of that is making sure that the way that we appoint leadership is, is trustworthy and right now we don't have a mayor who's trustworthy to appoint leadership, because every CEO he's put in place to run the schools is you know the one is in prison, and the other one had to step down due to an ethics violation and lying and you know basically you know promising things to people that they shouldn't have and trying to get paybacks, and benefit from certain contracts being doled out. And all this messy stuff so it gets corrupt even at the school level and when you allow for that to happen because you have leadership that's choosing people who allow themselves to fall into the same game rather than having a democratically elected School Board that also would have to be coupled with campaign finance reform that's the kind of thing I'm interested in. I'm interested in finding ways so that people more trust that the process of choosing a school leader is one that is fair, and it is open, and that is democratic. I'm doing a lot of assessment around right now because there are benefits to having a mayor who can appoint a good CEO to a school district.
S. Salis: Okay
N. Sàles-Griffin: But there are also risks.
S. Salis: Okay.
N. Sàles-Griffin: And same goes for an elected one.
S. Salis: So you would like to go in a middle ground where there is some kind of voice well choosing the leaders for public service okay.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Well let me tell you something this is interesting actually this is this is where I can tell you what it's like to run for mayor.
S. Salis: Okay.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Because what they'll tell you is well 87% of people want and like the school board so you need to be foreign elected school board and I want to say okay that sounds great obviously that's, that's the easy option but why don't we take the time to actually understand why? That's important compared to the current system and why is there not a third option? You know why aren't there other like what are some of the other ways that we can do this and when you break that down it's, it's this is simplistic almost limited thinking that can happen sometimes when we vet the ideas in a way that actually allows other people to understand. So, here's what I would propose based on like an understanding that this is something that people want and I think it's important to acknowledge that I think it's it'd be fine to have a democratically elected school board. So, long as the process itself was truly democratic there is a problem associated with doing elected school board if the people who are running can get contributions from special interest groups and that could be disproportionately influenced by the people who have the most money. So there's this issue of money in politics especially in Chicago, that is looming over us at every level and if we don't talk about that and address that then it doesn't matter whether you have a mayoral-appointed school board or an unelected school board it's still going to be messed up. That's what's important about my campaign I guess and then why I'm running which is I'm willing to take the time to break down the nuance here and dig into the story and also acknowledge that I'm not the expert in every area but I'm willing to do that and explain that to people and be honest about it.
S. Salis: 33: 21: I am Simone Salis and this is The Hoomanist, you can listen to every episode on your favorite podcast app, or with a full transcript available on hoomanist.org. Today's guest is Neal Sales-Griffin CEO of Code Now and candidate for the Office of Mayor of Chicago. The first African American mayor of Chicago was Harold Washington, the mechanism that worked for the election of Harold Washington you probably know it much better than I do but it was he was a reluctant candidate he didn't want to then he found more supporters and then eventually was able to split the daily voters elector base. So he got a little bit of that with the lakefront wealthy white hip neighborhoods and then most of the African American vote went to him, and that way being the population 15% white and African American he was able to have the majority of it and then the elected. That was for how formidable that was still a mechanism that relied on groups and like you save clusters and segregation like that what are the mats here for you what do you wear the method you envision for the future because you were running against like well and establish people in this in this challenge and you must have a vision for the math of this
N. Sàles-Griffin: 2.7 million people in Chicago just under that 2.1 million people 2 plus million or register are old enough to vote and around 1.5 million give or take are registered last year election in 2015 it was around mid-five hundred thousand, five hundred fifty, five sixty thousand something voted for mayor. So, five hundred plus thousand people voted for mayor out of a potential group of 2 million.
S. Salis: Yes 1/4 is.
N. Sàles-Griffin: When I think about that there's a couple things, one is of the 500, 000 how many of those can we get to vote for us and, of the other group are there new folks that we can activate and give them a reason to want to participate and get involved and the math plays out pretty cleanly. There's a crowded race, there's a lot of people running for mayor, not everyone's going to get on the ballot, not everyone's going to get the petitions, they need to do it but we're going to and I hope you know a number of others do because I don't think petition should be a blocker to get on the ballot. But that being said, I mean I think I need to run a hundred thousand people to vote for me to get into a runoff against Rome, who has a name ID and the money to get into the runoff himself. so I am my big bet right now is, I'm going to be in a runoff against Rome right now and that's going to take around a hundred thousand votes. So you think I can get a hundred thousand votes?
S. Salis: I am not going to be one of them because I'm not a US citizen.
N. Sàles-Griffin: That’s fine, but you know do you know ten people who are US citizens and who live in Chicago right?
S. Salis: I guess so
N. Sàles-Griffin: You know ten people I guess so that's my point, so if I find a way to activate you to get ten people to vote for me, now we're talking. We're talking about the power of ten years.
S. Salis: What is most peculiar about you is not just the age, and it's not just the background per say that you are an outsider, but it's where from, you are an outsider. Because you come from the tech world and you know business world, going towards the next one or two or three decades we are going to need I believe not necessarily you, but in general. We are going to need people they're tech-savvy not just like the kids that you're educating, for example, I don't know if you heard, but the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, he had a conference two months ago.
There was about A. I and machine learning and he said basically. We believe this can radically change the life of the French citizens and the way it can do that is that we can start to deploy and we will invest in A. I and machine learning on a government base. And everything we do for research will be open source so everybody can check, the citizens can check the code, can take the code, can fork the code, can do whatever they want and not just that, everybody will be able to understand how we apply for example A. I or machine learning algorithms to our welfare. And there will be bias, there will be bias in what we do and we ask for your help to correct it. Because we need more eyes and we need diversity in check in these algorithms so they will be fair and we can share them with the rest of the world.
N. Sàles-Griffin: That's leadership.
S. Salis: That's leadership; isn't it? Like that's a man that looks at the future takes control takes a radical decision for its own citizens and it doesn't try to ignore the upcoming situation. I don't want to call it problem, because it is only a problem I believe if we make it a problem; otherwise, it's a really empowering thing.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Yeah.
S. Salis: So, what interest to me is, how can these algorithms, how can block chain, how can machine learning help fight inequality?
N. Sàles-Griffin: I think that, by making things less corruptible, by making things more efficient, by automating certain systems it affords a level of effectiveness and consistency. Basically, what all of these things allow us to do is what we would like to do better and it replaces the need for us to do work that we shouldn't be doing, and it allows us to spend our time doing more unique work to you know human orientation. So that's it so, we talk about the workforce and we talk about improving a city and creating an environment where more people can actually live comfortably, and make sure that their money is safe, to make sure that the job that they have to do that's manual labor is actually not putting them at risk of injury.
That's where these systems come into play and by making sure that these all exist in a way that allows us to, be thoughtful with how we roll it out, so that we aren't sloppy, or rushing in a way that would almost disproportionately affect people who don't understand how these systems fully work yet, that's the risk so that's where the training comes in. So when it comes to machine learning how can we apply machine learning to ensure that city system are actually run more efficiently right? How could that help police departments, manage their data collection and the you know execution of certain programs based on that data that, it's limitless.
But I would say it's actually less about those tools and it's more about understanding the problem. And in going alright this is the problem what are all the ways that we could solve it, and to include the community more on like in on that and we're not doing that because we're afraid of how they're going to react when they look at the truth because it doesn't look good. So everything that we're talking about, all is fueled by money, right money, and like the money we put in the budget is what allows all of our departments to function people to be hired into positions and all the work to get done.
S. Salis: Okay
N. Sàles-Griffin: Right now we don't have a unified budget that allows everybody to understand the inflows and outflows of those resources the decision-making that's associated with it and the intentionality behind each line item if we don't start there by clearly understanding that. Whatever CTO you want to hire for the city of Chicago to implement machine learning and block chain technology who we making that decision, how much are we paying this person, what resources does he or she have to actually do that well, what departments are being built, what private and public partnerships are being established with what companies, with what relationships. All those things get fueled and stemmed by the financial question. So, I'm spending most of my time right now making sure that that itself is robust and well understood.
S. Salis: There is a book by Richard Florida, titled, “who is your city?” and you know, who is your city it's based on both the people that live in the city, human choices in architecture and development and altogether he argues that a city has as kind of its own character right. And I think that's a beautiful question because I think like who is Chicago who is your city, who is who is your Chicago, who is it?
N. Sàles-Griffin: I mean, I'm Chicago, you're Chicago now too - my approach to understanding the identity of any community or culture of our city, is hyperlocal. So you start with you, you start with your family; you start with your loved ones, the people you care about. Then you extend yourself to your neighbors, to your block, to the people in the community that you spend time with, the store owner at the grocery store, at the coffee shop, and then it goes beyond that. To your school, to your environment where you know frequent to build relationships, where you work, where you socialize that community that you is established. To all of those different inputs then over time, it becomes a collective that we have neighborhoods, and wards, and community areas and we have a city. So that extension has to start, by being extremely individual and then we work our way towards a larger notion of what Chicago is unfortunately in the way we started this whole conversation, was talking about how Chicago has this
S. Salis: Segregation.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Segregation, but it's with like how, like the our skin color, in our cultural and an ethnic upbringing and background in history that is the current separation of how Chicago is identified instead of us being Chicagoans and everyone here no matter what neighborhood, or what part of the city, no matter what color your skin is no matter whether you're from here or not whether you moved here or not you feel like you are part of a community, and that you're welcome. That is what I would like Chicago to be, but that is not what Chicago is right now.
S. Salis: 2019: you get elected. Fast forward 2027, what is the difference from when you got elected to when you'll leave your final second term?
N. Sàles-Griffin: We're no longer trying to arrest our way out of the problem when it comes to our issues with crime. We're excited to send our kids to the school that's down the street in our neighborhood and we're no longer, frustrated that we're paying more money in taxes, because it's actually benefiting us, and we can see the changes happening on our street, that’s the vision I have, the more detailed version is on Neilgriffin.com/vision. Because I spelled that out actually pretty clearly, here's what happens by the end of my term, my second term, that's, that's really it Chicago's on the right track. We're on a path and we've got new leadership on the way, that's going to help us continue down this path that we all agreed upon.
S. Salis: Which kind of person are you, what are you, what are your focuses in life right now on a personal level, or your interests? What do you do now when you're not running for Mayor?
N. Sàles-Griffin: When I'm not running for mayor, I like cooking all types of food and I love cooking I look forward to dinner most evenings.
S. Salis: Okay
N. Sàles-Griffin:: And I have it prepped usually in some way shape, or form.
S. Salis: Okay
N. Sàles-Griffin: So, you know, I'll do all types of cuisine and you not grew up with a mixed you know raced about bringing so like I learned a lot about making Filipino dishes, and you know Central American and you know.
S. Salis: What's the favorite one of yours, the top one that when you need something good and want to feel good about?
N. Sàles-Griffin: Oh! Man, I can't eat it anymore because I'm low carb lumpia.
S. Salis: What is that?
N. Sàles-Griffin: My favorite egg rolls, like Filipino egg rolls there so good my mom.
S. Salis: Is it fried?
N. Sàles-Griffin: Yes, yes love that, but yeah so cooking is, is big for me.
S. Salis: Okay,
N. Sàles-Griffin: Because we eat every day,
S. Salis: Yeah.
N. Sàles-Griffin: You might as well eat well right, I mean and I want to make sure that not only do I love cooking and feeding myself, but even more importantly, I love feeding other people, I love having people live and cooking dinner for them. It just gives me so much joy to know that, I was able to make something that made them happy, right, and it's a small version of that you can do every day whereas you know when I start a company, when I teach a class, when I run a non-profit, when I do all this other work, I'm still working towards the same outcome. Which is I want them to be happy over a longer period but that short moment of happiness when they put that food in their mouth and they try my cauliflower puree, with my you know kale chips, and my you know perfectly seared you know rib eye steak, and like it are eating that and it's delicious like that brings me a little bit of joy.
S. Salis: Are you a spiritual person?
N. Sàles-Griffin: I am, yeah, I mean I I’m always fascinated by the question of you know the nature of our existence
S. Salis: Okay.
N. Sàles-Griffin: And the whole
S. Salis: What’s the answer? You don’t have it
N. Sàles-Griffin: You know what and I'm very comfortable not having it I'm actually very, very settled in the fact that like our job as humans is in a way to pursue answers and to discover things and to learn. And I think the fact that I get to live in a time where we're still trying to figure that out is really cool. I don't know the answer to those questions I'm absolutely enthralled by the idea that we can continue asking them though.
S. Salis: Do you recognize yourself associate yourself through a specific philosophy or religion?
N. Sàles-Griffin: No
S. Salis: No
N. Sàles-Griffin: I was raised Christian and Catholic and I have a lot of those values and those I carry a lot of those with me, but the, the real eye-opener for me was when I was a sophomore in high school I went to Catholic High School.
S. Salis: Okay
N. Sàles-Griffin: And you take theology all four years when you're in Catholic school so, I studied the world's religions, and I had this class where I got to know so many other religions and faces across the world. And what was so interesting to me was how much they had in common there was so much overlap in the values and how you were supposed to treat people, and the lessons you were supposed to learn so I almost rounded up confused, because I was like man if I was born and this part of you know the country. If I was born in this part of the world I would probably have this belief, not the one that I have now.
So, what do I do with that, like now that I'm aware of that what do I do with it? So if anything I'm just embracing the idea that we have to help people, we have to make sure that we do well while we're on this earth, and while we have this life, we don't know whether we're going to have another one, we don't know what happens if we when we die. Because of that, I'm going to do the most of what I have and try to be as good of a person as I can be based on the purpose that I choose, the values that I have and allow the lessons that are almost timeless now through all of these amazing you know historical resources that we have access to, to inform some of my thinking so that we don't learn the wrong lessons from history.
S. Salis: What is your independently from Mayor, you do have a life as an educator, you do have a life as a professor, what is your hope for Neil? Neil looks back at his life a fifty sixty seventy eighty a hundred years and goes blank I'm really glad that I worked toll ways this because this is what actually matters to me no matter if running for mayor or working on my own inside.
N. Sàles-Griffin: I'm ready to die. I'm ready man like I don't want to all right. I want to be around and help as many people as I can, but I've been living my life like that until now. But I have to continue to do that.
S. Salis: So what is it?
N. Sàles-Griffin: I help people I do my best and I help other people does it and I love it, and I don't know when death comes for me, I don't know when it ends. So it's hard for me to think, so it's hard for me to think so far ahead about what that looks like I will tell you it would be a dream come true if I can raise a family. I love to do that, I love to do that and Chicago. It would be dreams come true for me if I found more success so that I can help more people. It would be a dream come true for me to you know have the privilege of being alive when we make new discoveries, in science and then the expiration of our earth, and space and RB the purpose and meaning of life and deeper understandings of our spirituality. It would be so amazing to be around and exist for all these things to happen to be a part of it in some way that being said you have to also be comfortable with where you're at and what you have and I am one hundred percent. So what I've done up to now has been time well spent. I'm thankful for it, I'm grateful for it in every day after this is a blessing.
S. Salis: Neil Sales-Griffin, today onHoomanist, thank you.
N. Sàles-Griffin: Thank you.
S. Salis: Neil Sales-Griffin is an Entrepreneur, Teacher and educational leader, born and raised in the Chicago's South Side, currently CEO of Code Now. Mister Sales-Griffin is a thirty-year-old running as Chicago Mayor candidates as an outsider. You can read more about his projects resume and platform by visiting Neilformayor.com.