#StoryChicago NOT a Sense of Place for Blacks

#StoryChicago NOT a Sense of Place for Blacks September 22, 2013

I went to the Story Chicago Conference this past week.  The theme was A Sense of Place but I felt anything but.


The 1st evening of the conference, conference creator Ben Arment gave us a brief welcome and an introduction to the 2013 Sundance-award-winning documentary, Blood Brother.  The film follows a white American, Rocky Braat who gives his life serving AIDS orphans at a hostel in India.  The film was amazing, touching & inspiring.  The next morning, we began with a very lively all-white, all-male band, Paper Route.  That was followed by a very good mini talk by Ben and a white Australian dude, Tom Thum a professional beat-boxer. And something Tom the beat-boxer said hit me.

Tom mentioned Doug E. Fresh and when he did I yelled out “Doug E!!”  Y’all.  I had a very large Doug E. Fresh poster on my childhood bedroom wall.  Tom’s off the cuff Dougie comment spoke to my Sense of Place for the first time since the conference started.  During Tom’s 2nd act he laid down some dope beats.  Obviously, having no power to resist a dope beat, I got up to dance.  I noticed a few dudes laughing at me -the spectacle- the sheer audacity that I’d get up to dance when no one else was.  Are these white folks being disrespectful to the entertainer? I wondered.  Or are they merely self-conscious/unwilling to let loose? Or sadly, just can’t bust a move, even a bad one.  After all, nary a head bobbed during the Paper Route set.

Equation: red-colored-skinny-jean-boat-shoed-v-neck-black-rimmed-glasses-wearing hipsters + “relevant” Christian culture + white conference creator + white dude who saves Indians + white band + white dude who started charity to Africans + 3 white male speakers + one female white speaker + different white dude who started a different charity to Africans + white women giving announcements + 2nd all-white, all-male rock band + 3rd all-white, all-male rock band = disillusionment.

I see white people.


I saw minorities too.  They were the help.  I saw maybe 5 black volunteers.  I saw a black dude helping cart stuff on and off of the stage.  I saw 5, maybe even 8 black attendees.  On the 3rd day, I met two dudes with a larger group from Switzerland, which was pretty sweet.

‘Grace, why on earth are you so jaded?  Why are you presenting such a bleak, horribly specific picture?’ you may be wondering especially considering I had a GREAT time.  Given time, money & vacation time I’d go to Story again.  I point these problems out to hopefully begin a healthy dialogue towards ongoing solutions not just for Story but other white-led conferences as well.


There’s a problem when an entire day passes without seeing or hearing from anyone else other than whites let alone without mention to the word “welcome,” or without acknowledgement of the racial, cultural or ethnic disparities in the room.  There’s nothing more unwelcoming as a person of color to walk into a place and feel completely ignored and unacknowledged.

I have been a part of planning Christian conferences and have directed 3 myself.  You can’t control who registers for your conference.  You can target groups, but you can’t control registration.  You can try to push scholarships and incentives in certain directions but it’s still a crap shoot.  That there weren’t many minorities at Story is fine…not as fun for me, not as life-giving for me, but fine.  What conference planners can control is who’s on stage and the messages sent by those pivotal choices.

When a whole conference goes by and the only black man I see on stage is on the third day for 2.5 minutes to introduce someone else what that says to me is:

There were no black people we could find worthy of this stage…

There were no Latino people we could find worthy of this stage…

There were no African people we could find worthy of this stage…

There were no Native-American people we could find worthy of this stage…

There were no South Asian people we could find worthy of this stage…

There were no __________ (fill in the blank with any one non-white) we could find worthy of this stage…

You get my point.

When you bring in a beat-boxer from Brisbane, Australia (whom, I loved & am now slightly obsessed with) we all know you’ve got the clout to grab folks from across the world.  When attendee’s are attending from doggone Switzerland we know both attendee’s and speakers alike are globally privy to Story’s reach.  The world is your oyster, Story!  If all else fails, there’s YouTube.  Every one & their Mama has a website.  Take advantage.


End of Day 2 – 11:30pm. I am feeling frustrated.  Mostly sad  –what a lost opportunity!  Yet, I know how to live & breathe here.  I was born and raised in white christian culture. I know how to manage my emotions, keep functioning, get out of it what I need to.  I make do.  I code switch when I need to.  I take notes.  I pull out inspiration.  I got to hear Nike’s global creative directors for crying out loud. Tom Thum! Cirque De Soleil’s creative director.  The Google guy!  A dude who works with Kanye West!  Tom Thum!  Only a FOOL would waste that opportunity.  I’m from Detroit y’all.  I don’t waste food and I don’t waste opportunities.  During the 2nd white boy band I even got up to dance while the rest of the crowd sat and looked bored.  Gimme a beat & I will rump shake. Bottom line.  But forget about me, what about the white people?

It troubles me for white conference Directors to present to a mostly white audience, a mostly white presentation of mostly white men doing, thinking, wearing, rocking out to mostly white stuff.  The message sent to said white folk attendees is very similar to the message sent to white people EVERYWHERE ELSE…

…Hey, we’re the shizz, the friggin’ cream of the crop!

…Hey, we’re the top of the heap!

…Hey, we’re the ones who rescue the black babies!

…Hey, we’re the coolest!

…Hey, no one else’s voice actually matters!

…Hey, we’re IT.

This subtle underlying message is the stuff of legend, it’s what white privilege is based on.  It’s the only conclusion you come to when you see every one but whites left out of influence & leadership.  One *may* conclude: African-Americans, French Canadians, South Asians, Brazilians, Native Americans, etc. must not have much to say to us white people otherwise they would be here.

With all that we know about white privilege it’s sad -sometimes maddening- not to see white led conferences go out of their way to delineate themselves from this troubling American trend.

After all, at Story we saw three white men (Rocky Braat, Scott Harrison & Dan Haseltine) who serve brown people but we all know, right, there’s lots of African Americans serving the poor?  But if those stories aren’t told or welcomed at a place like Story where on earth will they be?  Fox news? Unlikely.

Thankfully, the 3rd & final morning welcomed two Asian-American men with amazing stories & gifts.


When I was a Campus Minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship I admit, I was thrown when we first began introducing worship songs in Spanish when there were either no Latino staff or students present or just a few.  It seemed to me an uncomfortable inconvenience seeing as how I failed to actually learn the language in my 6 combined years of Spanish high school + college education.  Thankfully, I engaged and overtime what I saw floored me: A Sense of Place was created for our Latino brothers & sisters and after some years they showed up.  At every level they showed up.  This same thing held true all over the country as I’ve attended various InterVarsity conferences and been blessed/challenged/convicted by doing worship with, preaching, teaching & learning alongside speakers of many different languages, tongue, tribes and nations.  Yes, there were difficulties in those transitions, but what a gift.

Do I believe Story’s creator or team were trying to say ‘we don’t really care what type of music you like,’ or ‘we don’t care if you feel you have a voice here?’ No absolutely not.  I have nothing against Ben or his team.  I hope he knows he’s my brother in Christ and I am in frickin’ awe of this amazing beast of creative genius he dreamt up.  The fact still remains, there were oversights & implications for those oversights.  The body of Christ needs to lovingly address them.

I wonder if what we have is a vision problem.  There are people like Kathy Khang a Regional Multi-Ethnic Ministries Director, a gifted teacher, trainer, preacher one of my good friends & hilarious to boot who is based out of the Chicago area.  Even a 15 minute consultation with someone like her would have unearthed a great deal.  Or my husband, Dave who is admittedly an internet ghost but is a 15 yr. veteran at teaching, training, preaching, discipling, mentoring, living, breathing, consulting, practicing racial reconciliation & successful multi-ethnic ministry & conferences at the local, regional & national levels of InterVarsity.  Or me.  I’ve done all that too PLUS training in multi-ethnic & diversity management.  The point is, there are people out there who know this stuff…who effectively bring a tremendous amount of insight to folks who aren’t privy to as much training.  We are here.  We are hire-able.  Shoot, I’d even consult for free if one presented me a big enough vision with a small enough budget.

A conference with the magnitude, reach & influence such as Story should have someone say, “wait, wait, wait a doggone minute.  Is this accurate that there’s only one African-American visible on stage besides the stage hands & that there are several black volunteers?  If so, let’s figure out a way to address this.  Let’s figure out a way to be sure our black attendee’s feel welcome & invited here.”  Yet, that’s the last minute response.  What I’m suggesting is a more thoughtful approach before you have a black attendee writing a 2,600 word treatise on this very same observation.

Again, it’s a simple -entirely forgivable- oversight, but not a good look.  The onus must be on a Conference director/planner/team to be sure to represent a global vision of what God has for us far beyond what has been traditionally shown to a watching, waiting audience.  It is irresponsible to communicate -intentionally or unintentionally- anything else. Does a conference like Story need to do this?  Yes, if it wants to be a viable witness.  Yes, if it wants to care for more than just whites.  What would happen -could happen- if a conference like Story decided to create A Sense of Place for African-American men?


This is what I know.  What I know is that black men are still being sent to prison at alarming and unjust rate, black men are still being killed for no good reason, we are receiving no no justice for our murdered teens and our abortion rates are sky high.

Those of us trying hard to break away from all that drama are also staring down the issues with hyper caricaturized fundamental black Christianity OR a ridiculously un-theologically sound, wildly inappropriate name-it-claim-it wack-job version of faith OR the heavy pursuit of wealth ala Jay-Z OR fending off our own amidst claims of “yessir massa,” & visions of Uncle Tom.

Those of us looking to be a relevant and beautiful version of Christianity to a hurting world cannot even find a glimpse of honor of our culture in a conference whose whole purpose was to establish A Sense of a Place.  Not only was there NOT A Sense of Place there was not even A Sense of Welcome.  Not even so much of a “we are glad you are here black people.”  I, for one, would have really appreciated something, anything.

I know it’s tough for whites to swallow this. I.E. “Grace Biskie there you go again bringing in prison, murder, Trayvon and abortions!  Get a hold of yourself, woman!”  I cannot.  I will not.  I don’t really care who doesn’t like me or read me.  If you think I care about a popularity contest you’ve missed the point of the post (and my writing life in general).  I cannot separate how much blacks need A Sense of Place other than prisons and really weird Churches and I’m hoping to help you understand why you should stop trying to get me to.

The cost to my community is too damn high.

I, we need A Sense of Place more than you.


I firmly believe that God’s intent for humanity was shown in His creation of diverse cultures and ethnicities.  If we see this truth right there, plain as day in Genesis shouldn’t we assume this is still true today?  Shouldn’t we WORK to celebrate a diversity of cultures, ethnicities and voices?  If, from the beginning God has called us to “fill the earth and subdue it,” then the obvious implication is that the earth will fill separate from each other- with many differences: everything from agricultural methods to language.  Everything that makes up culture is a part of God’s desire to give us a rich cultural expression.  And it is all very good.

The beauty of a diversity of global voices and cultures is that we reflect our creator.  I believe our diversity -language, food, skin color, everything- was not a mistake nor an evil by product of the Babel fiasco but a fulfilling of God’s original purposes and should be celebrated in any & every context especially Christian conferences.  This is why I so often stress that racial reconciliation needs to focus on our differences because in and through them we see a full reflection of God’s image.  And if we can see that corporately at a conference like Story we need to try.

More than anything, y’all I firmly believe Jesus’ work on the cross has the power to remove the barriers that exist between warring (bickering, ignoring) racial, cultural and ethnic groups.  When we address this, it becomes a powerful testimony to the power of Christ’s work.  Addressing it though is where I find people get all jacked up.

When it gets hard: the celebrating, the confessional aspects, the listening it out, the sacrifices necessary to address grievances, or even one lone blogger unhappy with a few things, folks usually start throwing up their hands in frustration at a faster rate than Americans divorce.  ‘Ish gets hard.  In that way, I understand why many of us we are still waffling around essentially ignoring one another, pretending the cross has nothing to do with reconciling ALL things to God, pretending there are just a few things that don’t fall under Christ’s Lordship, pretending that reconciliation isn’t really a thing, pretending a few things about life suck therefore can be left unaddressed or delegated to someone else.  Jesus didn’t destroy that wall of hostility FOR ME, after all.  It’s a likely excuse believe me, I get it. BUT IT’S STILL TRIFLIN’.  Know that. The cross has and always will have implications for everything as huge as world hunger to everything as seemingly too inconsequential to consider as what black folks may feel at a conference like Story.

As much as we can, we should mine our individual cultures for the absolute riches available to us and spread the love around.  In that, we will find a celebration of multi-ethnic unity and cultural diversity.  This is where we are headed, people!  For eternity!  It’s friggin’ exciting -or at least it should be.  We are headed towards a Kingdom of Heaven where we will enjoy -possibly know- hundreds of thousands of languages, foods & peoples in their distinctive beauty all for one communal purpose: to worship God.  This is our eschatological reality –ALL the peoples, yo! So treasure it now, so much as we can control, HELP OTHERS TO TREASURE this small, beautiful glimpse of our eternal reality.

If we follow the examples of the early Church and several modern day ministries who are doing this well, it’s pretty easy to see that both ethnic-specific, culturally sensitive and multi-ethnic fellowship and worship experiences are needed to lower barriers, contextualize the Gospel, target certain groups and to form multi-ethnic, racial & cultural partnerships.

At least that’s how I see it.


 Story Chicago, you rocked.  I’m with you.  I’m here.





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  • grace, this is so important. thank you for writing and shining a light. we’re listening. i hope that STORY is, too.

    • Thanks so much, Suzannah. It’s really meaningful to know folks are listening, responding, relating, sharing, etc. xoxo

  • Heather Caliri

    I was reading this–and thinking, “Whoa, Story, why did you do that,” and just realized I am currently working on a series of interviews about social justice and very nearly did not include any people of color.
    Oh, Lord, help us in our blindness.

    • Heather, that is SO ENCOURAGING. Thank you for telling me that. And yes, Lord, help us all. I am not immune to ignoring folks either.

  • Anne Bogel

    I enjoyed Story Chicago (though I have some complicated thoughts about it, too), and was genuinely surprised at the lack of diversity among the presenters and audience. Out of all the conferences I know of and have attended, I expected Story to rock it on the diversity (for all the reasons you point out that they would have been able to cultivate it, had that been a priority).

    Thanks for articulating my swirling thoughts and many others that hadn’t even occurred to me. I’m thankful for your voice and am SO GLAD we got to hang in Chicago last weekend.

    • Anne, YES oh my goodness, so glad I got to hang with you too!! Thanks for sharing the post & for resonating -even differently.

  • It was delightful to meet you and to hang out at STORY, Grace. Honestly, knowing you were there gave me new eyes to see things, and I can see how that would make you feel overlooked and left out. I think I spent the first few years just enjoying the simple novelty that Christians would value creative work beyond a drama sketch that ends with someone stretching his arms out on a cross. But with an established conference like this, I think it is really important to ask how we can do better at making this a conference where everyone can sense their place.

    Also, if you knew the family I grew up in and the college I attended, you’d be surprised to see that I even tap my foot. I mean, I let my foot get WAY out of hand at STORY. 😉

    • Ed, ahahaha your foot got out of hand?! ahahaha that is rich! rich! But, yes, it was fantastic to meet/interact with you & the bloggy peeps at Story! having new eyes about things is ultimately what I hope we all have when it comes to stuff like this, ya know? Anyway, you get back to your foot tapping. =)

  • Was thinking about sending some people from our team here at UMI this year, but we decided to wait until next year. Hopefully, they hear your voice and there’s a bit more diversity next year. And maybe we’ll see you around then! Thanks for well thought out reflections on Story. Very helpful.

    • Me too, John! Hoping & praying it’s got a little bit of a different flava. God bless…

  • Jillie

    WOW, Grace!!!! You have said a mouthful! A GOOD mouthful! I’m just a whitey-white girl from Ontario, Canada. I don’t even see very many blacks here in my neck of the woods, unless they’re here for harvest work in the Fall. But I know they’re out there. In the church I USED to attend, there were 2! Count ’em…2! But I loved ’em! Beautiful ladies, who opened my eyes, just by having Martin Luther King, Jr.’s photo on the walls of their homes! Black art. Black fashion. Black dance moves!
    But I hear what you’re saying. I agree with what you’re saying. ALL people: red, green, purple, yellow, black & white, NEED to know they have a place anywhere they choose to go. ALL people have value. ALL people make contribution. ALL people bring their own unique perspectives. I respect your perspectives. Keep writing, Grace. I love your voice.

  • Grace, I have to ask, where do you see God creating diverse cultures and ethnicities in Genesis? Because I don’t see that anywhere. I see mankind separating themselves off into people groups as a result of sin and fear. I see brother coming against brother over the stupidest stuff, creating entire nations out of differences, but I don’t see God doing that anywhere. (Re-reading, I caught the Babel line this time, so nevermind that.)

    In today’s world we ought to strive towards making sure all followers of Christ are included in the Body, I agree. But I don’t see the diversity you champion as God’s original plan.

    • Wow, John, this comment makes me feel sad and frustrated. Let me guess, you probably think Adam and Eve were white too. I hope that you carefully consider your place of privilege and what exactly you hope to contribute to conversations about reconciliation and celebration among God’s diverse children in this world.

      • Excuse me, but what exactly do you know about me at all? I question a writer’s source when she claims Biblical evidence for something, and I’m automatically white and foolish enough to think historical figures (probably) from the middle east must be as well, huh? Way to assume.

        • Marie

          I actually agree with John. Diversity was never meant to be an issue. You will find these issues all over the world unfortunately. Im so sorry Grace you felt this way but its hard for me to see you beating Story and Ben up for this. Knowing Ben as a friend, This is definately not the heart of Story or Ben. Did you talk to Ben and voice your concern? I didnt see anything about that. I see your heart in this but you have made my friends question Bens character and the heart whether you meant to or not. I think before blasting someone or an initiative over the internet, it would have been heard face to face. Ben is pretty approachable.

          • Marie, I think we need to be mindful that when our friends are critiqued for their leadership, it is not the same thing as tearing them apart on a personal level. Grace doesn’t know Ben personally (that I know of) and so she’s critiquing his leadership (very respectfully, I might add) and STORY conference as a whole. In what context would she even have had the opportunity to approach him personally and ask where all the people of color were? That’s not realistic in the context of a public conference.

            Maybe this isn’t Ben’s heart, to make such a gross oversight of diversity in his conference, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible for him and his team to do that. Our intentions are rarely to purposefully close the doors of opportunity on people different from us; it’s almost always a subconscious ignorance. It’s not until people like Grace stand up and call attention to it that our eyes open wide enough to include different perspectives. Constructive criticism is so necessary to improve things like creative conferences. Take it for what it is. She did not rake them over the coals. If they’re really in the business of inspiring others, they’ll take this to heart.

          • No, I did not beat up Ben. I stated he’s my brother. He’s MY brother in Christ. ben is my brother in Christ. I respect him. What I pointed out is what happened & how I felt. I made no mention of ben’s character. And did not “blast” him at all. I didn’t have this all figured otu until after the conference otherwise I would have loved to (and still would) speak to Ben & am at this point speaking with both the marketer & the creative director who reached out to me. REad it again. I did not beat up Ben & never would.

          • Yes! I’m so glad they are talking to you. 🙂 I hoped they would! Good job, Grace.

          • thanks. =)

          • Also, Marie when I have time later I’ll respond to what you said about diversity, but yes I do believe it is biblical that diversity was God intended. More later. Sorry, in a hurry right now!

          • mskathykhang

            I don’t see Grace beating up Story or Ben, Marie. Diversity, not in the politically correct way, but in the God-given way is an issue. She isn’t questioning intent. She didn’t assign intent. She isn’t blasting anyone, someone or an initiative over the internet. This is Grace’s platform. Ben’s is Story. Grace’s observations and the issues she raises are valid because if creativity is only valid if created through a single cultural lens it is limited. That is not what God wants. God made His intentions clear. I know Grace as a friend. She is approachable, but she is not the director of this conference at question. She is not the face of the conference. Ben, as the face of the conference, must take some responsibility for the overall message and hear feedback from people who didn’t get that message because of cultural missteps.

        • Here’s what I know about you John( according to your Twitter): 1) You are white. 2) You are male. So no, I didn’t make a blind assumption.

          I apologize if you found my remark about Adam and Eve to be offensive. I should have held back on that one.

          • Grace claims a scriptural foundation for something in Genesis, I don’t see that evidence and ask her to point out where she finds it. What does either my race or gender have to do with that? I can’t ask a question like that without racial bias or motivation?

        • John, your original comment seems to take Genesis as the end all of god’s mission to roll back the curse. It also belies a privilege you have of being able to overlook racial diversity as an actual thing that needs to be addressed.

          See, when the Spirit of god brought the peace of Jesus to the disciples at Pentecost, he brought it with proclamations to every tribe, tongue, nation, and race that was present at a multicultural feast in God’s holy city-home. The diversity that Grace is advocating and speaking about is both divinely celebrated (Pentecost and in Revelation) as well, as simply put, the reality that people of color or heritage that in non-white live with. I tend to overlook their reality because I have the privilege to not live in the reality of racial divisions… because I’m white in a white world. I need voices like Grace, and grace’s voice particularly, to help me see race, see the need for diversity as the invitation of God for all people, and to see my own assumptions that straight up deny the reality of race that my brothers and sisters live with.

          You would do well to stop asking for some sort of theological treatise on race in Genesis and start asking why a Christian, smart, women of color didn’t feel her voice or her place at a Christian gathering about creativity.

          Stop and listen rather than point and chide.

          • Grace writes “God’s intent for humanity was shown in His creation of diverse cultures and ethnicities.” And that it’s “plain as day in Genesis”, which I don’t see. Her premise doesn’t make sense based on her reference to some evidence in Genesis which is not specified in any way, and so I’m questioning it. Seriously, why is this a problem that not one but two people have to come in and try to take me down as if I’m committing some kind of gross injustice with this?

          • John, your suggestion that God didn’t intend for diversity in Genesis (which I believe we see at Babel, after the flood, in the sons of Enoch, even down to the Abrahamic covenant) conveys something that I don’t think you are meaning to, but never the less still are. Namely, it conveys an idea that representations from other cultures (and subcultures) are not necessary because *we* have all that God intended. That kind of thinking is dangerous, is unbiblical, and tells people that aren’t like you that they are unnecessary.

            Again, I don’t think you are trying to convey this, but that is what some of us are hearing from your words.

            Sometimes, it’s really not about what you or I say; sometimes it is about how we are heard.

          • I cannot be responsible for how someone else responds to my words. If you’re suggesting otherwise we’ll just have to disagree because that’s not something I’ll waiver on.

            Regardless, I’m not sure how the idea that God didn’t intend the diversity we have today suggests that we have all He intended. I would argue that Babel was a punishment for sin, not a grand diversifying effort. The Flood, Enoch, Abraham…it all points me towards the idea that God is trying to return mankind to a state where we are unified under Him. And so the very diversity we have today suggests to me that we all are lesser than God intended. Christ continued (completed?) this work by laying the foundation for all people having access to God that would accept Him, regardless of status (Jew/Gentile/slave/free etc.)

            It’s like taking a rainbow, breaking it up with a prism, and saying the parts just as good as the original. The component parts are all there, but they are not the coherent, unified body that God intended. To separate out the blue spectrum, for example, even if it is pristine, with every possible beautiful shade, you can’t call it whole. It’s lacking the rest of the colors, and the rest of the rainbow is lacking for it not being part of the whole. It’s a poor analogy, but I hope you get what I’m saying.

            And so my thought process is that God’s intention was for all that beauty to be shared amongst all people equally. But that divisions man has created over time have separated us from bits and pieces of it, making coming together across cultures and ethnicities absolutely necessary if we are to begin to resemble God’s love and beauty. But His original intent was far grander.

          • I think I get what you’re saying; the rainbow analogy makes sense. (not sure I agree, but it makes sense.) But what I hear from your words is almost a white supremacist arguement. Which I’m sure is not what you are wanting to say. So you might not care how people hear your words, but you should know how it’s coming off.

          • Oddly enough, I sort of like the rainbow analogy. =) Only if it means us coming together to “resemble God’s love & beauty” each of us, uniquely in our own culture (language, preferences, symbolism, etc.” now THAT to me is a grand picture. everyone being the same and assimilated into one really weird family doesn’t seem like a very pretty rainbow to stay iwth the analogy…it’s like a rainbow of all blue. blah, right? I think our diversity in everything is what makes us a beautiful (rainbow) of God’s grandness.

          • mskathykhang

            John, perhaps you are taking the word “confuse” and giving it a negative connotation? The flood was in fact was a curse (Gen. 8:21), but God’s intent behind what happened in Babel is described not as an effort to destroy all living creatures but to scatter them over the face of the earth, which is what those first folks were supposed to be doing because back in Gen 1:28 God blesses male and female and said to them to be fruitful, increase in number, fill and subdue the earth. Subdue here does not mean pillage it and ruin it, it is in stewarding, caring and filling just as God filled and created. The people at Babel wanted to make a name for themselves instead of the creating and filling across the vast territories and lands we read in Gen. 10. Those people groups were not homogenous. Historically those lands and people groups had distinct languages as well as a sharing common speech.

            That is where diversity is plain as day in Genesis.

            The diversity is also bookmarked (a very big chiasm for those folk who like fancy words) when we read about the diversity in Revelation. Chapter 7 paints a crazy picture that looks VERY different than this conference Grace went to that I’ve never heard of. Great multitude of folk from every nation, tribe, people and language saying the same thing but clearly in distinct cultural, diverse ways.

    • Hey John, good questions here. I was at work earlier & have a meeting tonight, but I would love to answer your questions either later tonight or in the morning. Thanks for stopping through & commenting!

      • Thank you Grace, I look forward to hearing your thoughts further.

        • John, one of my former InterVarsity colleagues wrote a really helpful paper on this issue to help explain the biblical basis for why InterVarsity chooses to do both multi-ethnic & ethnic-specific ministry models. I appreciate the paper so much & it formed a large part of my theology concerning these issues (and consequently the foundational aspects of my beliefs for the body as laid out in this post). I’m going to just copy & paste a section of it below b/c Greg said it SO MUCH better than I ever could and it gives some of the passages. I’d love to know what you think about it. It is definitely a different way of approaching these issues that I’d NEVER been privy to in my Church growing up nor in my “Christian education.” anyway, sorry for the length/weird formatting but here it is: (and email me if you want to read the rest of it)

          I. Creation. The Creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 teaches the
          following truth about culture:
          that the development of diverse cultures and ethnicities is a part of
          God’s good creational mandate and intent for humanity. Implications: Our ministries must celebrate the
          diversity of cultures and ethnicities; identify (where undiscovered) and
          highlight (when ignored) those elements of God’s truth which exist in each of
          our cultures; and recognize that reflecting the image of God requires both racial
          reconciliation and ethnic identity formation.

          A) As part of the creation of humanity in his own image, God commands Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28), issuing what Reformed theologians
          call “the cultural mandate.” More
          than just “having babies”, Adam and Eve share in God’s act of creation by
          developing “human-made” items — patterns of relating and social processes —
          which help them to “fill-in” the otherwise rich diversity of God’s creation. In response, they create the things by
          which people distinguish one culture from another — methods of agriculture,
          family organization, taxonomy, language, poetry. (Gen. 1:26, 28-31; 2:19, 23).
          God places only one limitation on their activities (Gen. 2:16, 17); otherwise,
          humanity was free to develop its own culture. Cultural formation reflects God’s desire to love mankind,
          honor his image in men and women, and give expression to humanity’s God-given

          B) Scripture
          assesses the creation of humanity and the issuance of the cultural mandate with
          the refrain, “And God said.… And it was so. . . And it was very good.” (Gen. 1:26-31) Like procreation, partnership in
          marriage, work and child-rearing, cultural formation exists as part of God’s
          good and perfect created order. The creation of culture by humanity reflect
          God’s good intentions for an unfallen humanity and a sinless world. Therefore,
          we should value the different cultural expressions God has blessed us with.

          C) As
          beings created in God’s image, humanity’s exercise in cultural formation will
          naturally reflect the nature of the
          Creator who endowed the world with incredible diversity of environment
          and life form. Human cultures also will reflect some aspect of their creators
          — and, consequently, the Creator.
          As a result, all cultures reflect and contain some amount and aspect of
          truth and beauty. (Rom. 1:20) All
          truth is God’s truth, and any truth and beauty found in a culture derives from

          D) The
          Table of Nations (Gen. 10) describes how each ethnic/language group coalesces in
          fulfillment of the cultural mandate issued to both Adam and Noah. (Gen. 1:28
          and 9:1) It reflects how cultural formation manifests itself in the development
          of specific ethnic/language groups. Scholars interpret the numerical symmetry
          and perfection of the Table of Nations (seventy people described) as proof that
          the dispersion occurs through and because of divine providence.[1]
          (The table also offers a redemptive theological interpretation for creation of
          linguistic diversity in the Tower of Babel narrative. (Gen. 11) God fulfills
          his own good purposes to increase diversity even in the act of judgment.) The
          existence of linguistic and cultural diversity is not a de facto expression of
          human sinfulness.

          E) A
          natural implication of the creation of different ethnic and cultural groups is
          the concept of a corporate imago dei,
          which is the corollary of the imago dei
          reflected by each individual (and perfectly by the second Adam, Jesus).
          “[T]here is no one human individual or group who can fully bear or manifest all
          that is involved in the image of God, so that there is a sense in which that
          image is collectively possessed. The image of God is, as it were, parceled out
          among the peoples of the earth. By looking at different individuals and groups
          we get glimpses of different aspects of the full image of God.”[2]
          Racial reconciliation must involve more than assimilation, valuing the
          differences as well as the similarities so that we adequately reflect God’s
          image corporately.

          II. The Fall. The account and explication of the Fall and its effects
          teaches the following truth about culture: all aspects of culture — as the
          product of sinful humans — are tainted and warped by sin. Implications: Our
          ministries must examine, soberly but sensitively, every aspect of our cultures
          in light of Scripture to identify those attitudes, assumptions, or actions
          which have been warped by sin and which must be repudiated or redeemed. We also
          recognize both an individual and a corporate responsibility for sin.

          A) God
          explains the impact of the Fall to Adam and Eve by stating “Cursed is the
          ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of
          your life.” (Gen 3:17) Though his
          announcement focuses specifically on issues of agriculture, the curse impacts
          cultural formation as well. Paul
          emphasizes the Fall’s creation-wide extent when he writes, “For the creation
          was subjected to frustration . . . in hope that the creation itself will be
          liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the
          children of God. We know that the
          whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth.” (Rom.
          8:20-22) No aspect of human
          interaction — including cultural formation — remains free of sin’s effects.
          Scripture is unequivocal that all aspects of sinful aspects of creation will be
          judged and condemned. (Is. 2; Rev.

          B) Paul
          specifically expresses the negative effect of the Fall on human cultural
          patterns by instructing the Romans, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern
          of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and
          approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom.
          12:2) He carefully distinguishes
          between God’s holy will and the patterns of the world and assumes that
          Christians will be able to discern the difference.

          C) The
          great intercessors of the Bible (e.g,, Moses, Daniel, Nehemiah) recognized
          their corporate responsibility for a people group’s sins. (Ex. 33, Neh. 1,
          Daniel 9) Sin is not merely an individual transgression. Corporate
          transgression by a people and corporate responsibility are scriptural truths.

          [1] Driver, S.R. The Book of Genesis. (London: Methuen & Co, 1904), p. 134f.

          [2] Mouw, Richard J. When the Kings Come Marching In. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B.
          Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), p. 47. Jesus, as the second Adam, obviously
          does display the full imago dei in a
          unique way.

  • twosmooth

    Hello Grace, I stumbled across your post while looking for images and notes from this years conference. This was my first year attending and I think you wrote what I was thinking perfectly. So much of what you said hits home with me. Thank you for articulating it so well. Overall, my time at the conference was well spent and I took away some inspirational nuggets. I hope this post starts some healthy dialog!

    • Thanks. Glad to know it hit home in helpful ways!

  • I know we talked about this at length on our long hikes to the House of Blues in this morning, but it was uncomfortable for me, even as a white person, not to see more racial and gender diversity on the mainstage and to hear the implicit messaging of, “Go forth, white man, and save the African babies!” It hurts all of us when the full diversity of the body of Christ isn’t reflected, and even if STORY was trying to be less Christian this year, it hurts all of us as creatives when the full diversity of those doing creative work isn’t reflected. (Also, not all white people like loud, same-sounding rock music…)

    I hope STORY hears you, and other conference planners, too, because I know you’re speaking this from a place of love and concern.

    Also, on the dancing note, I realized later the conference probably draws sizeable crowds from Moody and Wheaton, and not all of them are allowed to dance. It reminds me of my wedding, where I tried to prepare the DJ for the fact almost nobody would dance: My side of the family is Polish, and we just can’t, it’s sad. And my husband’s is Baptist, and they aren’t allowed, it’s sinful. I guess you have to bear with us weaker brothers and sisters on the dancing thing. 😉

    • That’s a REALLY intersting insight, Emille! (hee hee) I ddin’t think much about those who grew up believing dancing was a sin. Wow. I’m so far removed from that reality I FORGOT IT WAS ONE. oops. Sorry non-dancing people, no judgement, y’all. That’s really the least of my concerns.

  • Glad you took the time to share this, Grace. I have become more and more uncomfortable with the whiteness of most of the blog/creative conferences out there. I hope the people who plan such things will take note of your feedback and take steps to change.

    Also, if I’d been at STORY, I so would’ve danced with you. I grew up in the evangelical church but I don’t understand how people can keep still when a good song comes on!

    • blaster151

      What do you suggest? Ban white people? They seem to be the ones interested in attending!

      • What I’d suggest is taking steps to make everyone feel welcome. There are many different ways to do this….again, like I said in the post, even a “hey, everyone is welcome here,” statement would have went a long way to making people of color feel seen, welcomed and heard.

        • guest

          It’s funny (maybe ironic is what I mean) to me that you said this, as a fair skinned blonde in attendance at church events where I am the only white person there I am CRINGING at that moment when the call to welcome everyone there comes. I already stand out, I get that and I’m not bothered by it at all. I just want to worship, pay my respects, enjoy the ceremony, etc. without the hoopla of everyone welcoming the white girl. All that being said, I think making yourself comfortable could have started with you. Spread the word, invite a friend, a coworker, another writer… because I’m not sure that your story helped the problem exactly. Obviously, I’m not black, but if I were I would likely cross this conference off of my list of events to attend after reading. I’m not sure if that is the goal.

      • mskathykhang

        Who said anything about banning white people? Come on. “They” are the ones telling their friends about the conference. “They” are the ones creating the content and inviting their friends to speak. NO one said anything about a ban…except you.

      • Yes! Oh my gosh, SUCH a good idea! Let’s just ban the white people! I’m sure that’s the only possible solution. Thank you so much for engaging this post in critical, thoughtful, and respectful way.

        • blaster151

          It’s sarcasm, Alyssa. I thought that would be clear. My point is that there are few good ways to “improve” the cultural diversity of an event that don’t start feeling weird and affirmative-actiony. It leads to idea sessions like “how can we attract more minorities withOUT attracting more whites?”

  • mongupp

    Couldn’t agree more….and I am a pale Aussie with an Armenian mother living in Canada. Often I point out to my kids why we only see white-skinned, skinny, pretty people on tv, ads etc. God made everyone different and valuable!

    • Didn’t know you were Aussie!!!! I love what you tell your kids, we do the same & try to introduce many different colors/shapes/itterations of humans as possible! =)

  • blaster151

    “There’s a problem when an entire day passes without seeing or hearing from anyone else other than whites let alone without mention to the word “welcome,” or without acknowledgement of the racial, cultural or ethnic disparities in the room” There’s a problem when an entire day passes and one keeps a mental tally of all the races they observe. Let go of your preconception of acceptable racial ratios and you’ll get a lot more out of life, not to mention events like this. Disproportionality does not necessary equal racial exclusion or indicate that someone somewhere dropped a ball. Maybe those who hosted the event see things with a less racially tinted lens than you do? “I can’t feel at home unless there are enough black people around” is a legitimate wound that you carry around, and I’m sorry that you do, but don’t confuse it with some idea of what all event planners’ priorities should be.

    • Have you ever been the minority in a room for 1 hr. let alone for 3 days? Have you ever been the only white man in a room of African-Americans with them performing music that you neither like or used to? If you have, then you were keeping tally. If you haven’t, you have very little you can say to me that actually speaks to my experience. If you haven’t ever displaced yourself ethnically/culturally then who exactly can’t feel at home unless there are enough of their people around?

      • blaster151

        So I have to artificially choose to spend time around a particular race of people in order to have a point of view? Believe me, I’ve been in plenty of situations where I feel like the odd person out – but it comes from a lack of self-acceptance and not because the organizers of my circumstances didn’t follow the “right” race quotas. I’m sorry that you didn’t feel like a part of things. “A white man can’t speak to my experience” – there’s the race lens getting in the way again. The commonalities are much more powerful than the differences, but you have to stop focusing on the differences.

        BTW, I love the black church experience . . . but I’m sure you have a point, if I didn’t feel like I had much in common with the people around me for 3 straight days, it would feel alienating. I don’t imagine, though, that I would somehow make it their fault.

        • Angela

          The usage of the word “artificial” here really ought to give you pause. You’re saying that because it takes effort to be culturally inclusive, organizers shouldn’t have to be bothered with it. But it is going to take some effort to break through established norms to create more unity in the Church. You seem to believe that racial culture and identity are largely irrelevant. But that’s just wrong. And it’s offensive to people with differing experiences than yours.

          • blaster151

            I agree that it’s something worth putting effort into – this outer business of making sure we don’t put unnecessary barriers up that would make anyone feel unwelcome. But I think there is an inner business of self-acceptance as well. If racial divides have been eradicated by our true identities in Christ (which is a Biblical idea), can’t that lead to a deemphasis on demographic bean counting? Let’s say I have a mindset of “keeping out black people.” Obviously bad. However, more subtly – doesn’t a mindset that leads me to think the thought “those empty chairs over there – it would be better for them to be filled by black people than white people” – doesn’t that mindset start feeling a little counterorganic, maybe forced or artificial? And doesn’t it disregard the true uniqueness of individuals to focus instead on externalities?

          • Deidre

            I get what your saying, I don’t think black people should be included just to have black people present. But rather, the idea that there are excellent black musicians, speakers, preachers and artists who are are not as visible in the public eye. It may take more work and effort to discover and include them than a (white) conference planner calling up his (white) pastor friend and saying “hey didn’t you have a kid in your youth group who does work in India now?” A lot of the platform in Christianity works as an old boys club. Not purposely but it’s “he graduated with the guy who married the sister of the pastor of that church, so give him a book deal.” To discover and expose others to excellence from those who don’t have access to the same connections takes more time and commitment but should be a priority within the body of Christ. Closing our eyes and saying color doesn’t matter in Christ is like trying to access the unity of Christ without any of the sacrifice.

      • This guy doesn’t want to get it. He’s more concerned with being right then actually, oh I don’t know, LISTENING to you. It’s so telling.

        • blaster151

          I’m both talking and listening. That’s how conversations usually go . . . and by “get it,” I have a feeling you mean to say “agree with us” . . .

    • mskathykhang

      I suspect those who hosted the event did just that – see things with a less-tinted lens as in White dominant culture lens. When the event planners talk about creativity, story, multiple venues, leaders of creative industries in a city like CHICAGO and not consider cultural diversity, they missed something that should have been a priority. And you also have a sense of acceptable racial ratios if something like this conference passes as acceptable as well.

      • blaster151

        I’m not sure I totally follow what you mean by that last sentence, but in my case I’m not sure that I think in terms of “acceptable racial ratios” at all and was merely trying to put myself into the frame of reference of the author.

        What I don’t understand is how it’s anyone’s “fault” that the demographic makeup of the attendees (of an event that’s open to anyone) were not to the author’s liking?

        As an analogy, I work in a field (software engineering) that contains vastly more men than women (greater than 10 to 1). Is there an evil conspiracy? Is there a glass-ceiling factor or other discrimination going on? Am I somehow culpable for the deplorable lack of “gender diversity?” Is it even a real problem? Of course not. More men than women seem interested in being there. The female engineers who are in the field are generally respected, paid fairly, good to work with, etc. This is my biggest point, I guess – insistence on statistical notions of “diversity” is really a form of SAMENESS (proportional representation by the various groups in a population) and is really tricky when you’re talking about something voluntary. Like an occupational field. Or a conference. If “proportional representation” is so important, maybe it’s just as valid to ask why all the minorities who were equally free to attend the conference chose not to.

    • Dude, it seems really insensitive for a white guy to be telling a woman of color (who has spent years working in racial reconciliation) that her perspective is a “wound”. The fact that you can say “So I have to artificially choose to spend time around a particular race of people in order to have a point of view?” shows your white privilege. In order for you to be a minority, you’d have to “artificially choose” it, for Grace it’s just everyday experience. And also, you refer to the “black church” experience, yet nobody STORY wasn’t billed as a “white creative” experience. This sort of phrasing goes to show just how normative the white culture is, and Grace brings up really good critiques. We’d do well to listen.

      • blaster151

        I referred to the “black church” experience because I was asked outright, “Have you ever been the only white man in a room of African-Americans with them performing music that you neither like or used to?”

        > The fact that you can say “So I have to artificially choose to spend time around a particular race of people in order to have a point of view?” shows your white privilege. In order for you to be a minority, you’d have to “artificially choose” it, for Grace it’s just everyday experience.

        Yes, I experience “white privilege” if by that you mean that I happen to live in a region where I am of the most common racial persuasion. So? Is that something bad? That happens and it’s not an evil conspiracy – just statistics. I may have some kind of fortunate “white privilege” but if you’re trying to use that to marginalize my own potential suffering through wounds, disconnection, loneliness, etc., then I object. If the author sees white people and automatically assumes a lack of potential common ground with them just because they’re white, then I object.

        • Me

          “Yes, I experience “white privilege” if by that you mean that I happen to live in a region where I am of the most common racial persuasion.”

          No. That’s not what it means.

          • blaster151

            I’m not saying that I haven’t consciously or unconsciously experienced various advantages (or lack of disadvantages) that would have been otherwise if I were a minority.

      • blaster151

        I also wonder if we should start seeing red flags when we notice ourselves making “you shouldn’t say that because you’re white/black” type statements. Remember that the context here is that the author wrote an entire article on why she experienced a room full of people like me as wanting.

  • mskathykhang

    I had never heard of this conference until you started tweeting and FBing about it! And then I looked it up and I thought you were crazy for signing up. 😉 I feel your fatigue, passion, commitment, and stuff. Grace Biskie, keep bringing up all that stuff. I’m with you!!!!!!

  • Grace- thank you. I am declaring GRACE over your heart and mind as you share these vulnerable, but powerful words. You have spoken truth, in love- not just for this instance, but for the whole Body. That is transformative. I am praying a Psalm 27:5-6 style covering over your life- that you would sense He is hiding you in the secret place of His presence as you follow Him and speak with the prophetic voice He’s given you. Thank you for being bold and loving. Grace and peace to you.

    • Oh what a wonderful prayer, Francie! Thank you so much!!! I need it & receive it!

  • pastordt

    Really well done, Grace. I am sorry for your discomfort – and actually surprised by the fact that folks at this much bally-hooed conference weren’t more aware of what this gathering would feel like to a person of color. I think that’s the hardest hurdle to jump – that putting yourself in someone else’s shoes jump. And you are so right – it’s a pretty simple fix. Even one aware person on the planning team can steer things in the right direction. Thank you for calling it out, and for doing it lovingly. Brava.

  • There are so many fun and “colorful” comments in regards to your very honest, vulnerable, and honoring post…I LOVE IT! Thank you for communicating the truth in love. I have a great appreciation and respect for the person and dream of Ben Arment and what he has done through STORY. It’s is from that place that I agree with the meat of your message and want to see STORY go beyond one “shade” of the “creative class” and into something that attracts and displays the full spectrum of creativity.

    I don’t expect every conference to meet some ratio quota of blacks to whites to hispanics to “white hispanics” to pacific islanders to “others”. However, with a vision as BIG as STORY and in a city as diverse as Chicago, it seems flat out weird to not have a more colorful display and showcase of diversity.

    I’m not even just talking ethnic diversity. On Thursday we had 5 musical performances…4 of them were indie bands from Nashville, TN. If it was a showcase of some of the best Nashville talent (all of them were very talented)…homerun! If we’re trying to fuel the “creative class”…maybe we should broaden the pallet. I digress.

    God’s intentionality for diversity is not a mystery and does not require a doctoral thesis to breakdown. In the beginning the great Triune artist/creator did what any artist would do at first…he made sure the lighting was just right. He began to define and shape his canvas. He added texture, layers, and “happy trees” (RIP Bob Ross). However, in the midst all of his brilliantly handcrafted beauty, the center piece was the seed of every human that would walk the planet…every shade…every nose shape…every hair texture…every eye color…every accent…all wrapped into one man and one woman. It was all there. The beautiful image of God on display in flesh and representing ALL PEOPLES.

    The ache you expressed isn’t about just feeling like the only chocolate chip in the cookie dough or, as someone suggested, a wound. It’s actually a longing for the same unity and diversity seen in the beginning.

    I look forward to more dialogue and pray we can move forward.

    • Ahh, interesting perspective, Jon. (re: bands, etc.) Great prayer, I share it with you. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • nonsuperwoman

    If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had this conversations with one of my girlfriends. I so get this and understand. Sadly, many others will miss your point entirely. Kudos to you for speaking this truth.

  • Daniel So

    Grace – I found your blog via Kathy Khang. Thanks so much for sharing your story (puns!).

    It would be impossible to comment on all of the great things you shared (would definitely create a tl:dr [too long: didn’t read] comment on my part!) but as someone who very much believes in unleashing God-given creativity throughout all levels of the Church, a conference like this is really, really missing out by not investing in a more diverse speaking team.

    The Medici Effect suggests that some of the most creative insights come from unexpected intersections — imagine the unexpected and creative collisions that Story could create if they purposefully sought to diversify their speaking team! Isn’t that the goal of such a conference?

    • Wow, the Medici Effect sounds deep, beautiful. AFter speaking iwth some of the leadership it seems pretty obvious they tried and that it is a value, but ultimately couldn’t get the minorities to the stage for one reason or another. But yeah, missing out -for all of us- is really the key. There’s many gifts to be had. Tahnks for stopping through!

  • Eugene Cho

    Dang, Mrs. Biskie. Dang.

    • MOST awesome response ever. Thanks a lot, Eugene. Means a lot, bro!

  • A few weeks ago, I posted a rant on Facebook about some horrible things I overheard a couple men talking about in the library. I made the comment that “I’m really irritated with white people right now, and I wish Erick were still here so I could vent to him.” One of his former coworkers made a comment about how Erick, as a black conservative, often had a problem with the way black people acted, etc. I don’t remember the comment verbatim, and I deleted the whole post, but what struck me were the words, “black conservative.” Erick was black, but he was definitely not a conservative — ever. However, he worked in an office full of white conservatives, so he did and said what he had to do and say to fit in as well as possible into his environment. Reading the comment made me sad, because it made me recognize that so many black people feel they have to have two personalities — one they can use around white people to make them feel safe, and then their true selves. Because, hey, if I tell the truth to white people, I’ll just be labeled as “one of those angry black people.” And so Erick died with so many people never having the opportunity to know the real, amazing Erick. And that’s tragic.

    Anyway, I said all that to say, don’t stop telling the truth. Be Grace. Even if it makes people mad. Your vulnerability is inspiring. I want to be like you when I grow up! Love ya.

  • Hallelujah! Thanks so much for this! You are Grace, and you SPEAK GRACE. Praise the Lord!

  • Chris Burdick

    Grace, thank you for sharing your opinion here. As a white, male, Chicago-based attendee of Story, I felt entirely at home, and I don’t think that should have been the case. I wasn’t really uncomfortable with anything that went on at this conference. I was inspired and energized, but I wasn’t challenged or stretched beyond my own context. I’m thankful for the kind and gracious way that you’ve laid out your concerns, so I can start pondering some of the same thoughts. How can I help create a sense of place for those different than me in my workplace, my church, even my home. Thanks for taking a risk and opening up. I hope Story is better for it next year.

    • Chris Burdick

      One other note: I’m sad I missed you at Story. We should connect next year.

    • Thanks for the gracious response, Chris. That’s an astute observation.

  • melissagreene

    Grace , Thank you for this. It is needed, thoughtful and laced with a heart of reconciliation. I look forward to not only figuring how to apply it in my world, my influence, my community but also to what else I can learn from you. thankful for you!

  • Beautifully put. Thank you for this glimpse and the kind power of your words.

  • This post filled me with a lot of hope for more of the kingdom here on earth – thank you!! It’s so easy for us to be blind to our own privilege, we need to speak up when we see it and listen when we are told about it.

  • Ryan Haack

    Grace – I’m curious to know if you reached out to Ben or any of the volunteers you refer to in this piece to get their perspective before you posted it? Pretty heavy accusations you levy here.

    • Ryan, no I didn’t reach out to them before hand b/c I chose to not to throw out accusations only state what happened & how I felt about it. I was clear that I “wondered” if there’s a vision problem, etc. I also stated very clearly that this post is about more than just Story itself. Afterwards, I did speak to Story’s creative director on behalf of Ben & we had a great conversation about it.

      • Ryan Haack

        Glad to hear you had a great conversation! Important stuff to tackle.

        By the way, I might be a white male, but as a person missing a limb, I know the “only-one-in-the-room feeling” quite well. Also, I can dance and was bobbing my head during Paper Route. 😉

        • Thanks. It was good! Oh man, I can imagine you feel that often! Good for you for still dancing. Life is a dance, eh?

  • I work at a school where most of the students and most of my coworkers are black. Over the summer, several people from my school went to a technology/education conference. The first night there there weren’t any people of color on stage and I got all worked up about it, “Why is everybody white!?” and my coworkers were like, “Welcome.” It was funny, but it has also been really eye-opening for me. Thanks for starting this conversation.

    • Well, it’s a tough one, b/c minorities are actually numerically minority…less to go around. that’s factual. but there are places where we should try harder… but yeah, it has been eye opening for me too as folks have communicated with me about this.

  • Grace, I just wanted to thank you for writing this – I work at a church, in the South, that is working hard for racial reconciliation and unity. It is a long road, and it is good to read such a thoughtful piece – I really appreciate everything you brought into it. Especially the point that it’s not harmless; the whiteness of certain events comes at a cost to the black community. It can be all too easy for me to forget.

    I’m a creative and have looked at Story, but honestly one of the reasons I haven’t gone is that I’ve gotten tired of seeing the lineups at conferences and seeing them be all-white, often all-male. So grateful that you didn’t just not go; that you went and engaged and then wrote honestly about your experience. I have much hope that Story will respond well. Thanks again!

    • Sarabeth, thanks. Churches are a whole other ballgame, eh? Good for you being a light there & keep pressing in. It will make a difference!

  • Omyglory, Grace. Please keep speaking this.

    In my life now I try and ask: Who is missing from this picture? Am I missing anyone? Because for so many years my world was all white and I don’t want any of that. I am cheering you on and if we’re ever at a gathering together, I’ll be up dancing right there with ya.

    • Thanks so much, Idelette. I really appreciate the feedback, especially from you! Yay for dancing. =)

  • Thank you for these very timely thoughts! I love it that you included French Canadians (Québécois) in your list of under-appreciated people groups.

    • Ahhh, glad that spoke to someone specifically. I was trying to throw the net wide. =)

  • Rory Tyer

    Grace, I appreciate your perspective and, as a white male, cannot say that I relate to your experience as a minority at STORY. But – I’ve volunteered at STORY for the past four years, and I know Ben personally. I know for a fact that what you felt was communicated – “There were no black people we could find worthy of this stage…” simply isn’t true. In this post you seem to imply two things:

    – STORY’s budget is big enough that they could ask anybody to speak
    – Since there were hardly any minorities represented, this must mean they weren’t asked

    Both of these are false. Ben works with a very small budget and relies on many people’s generosity, agreements to speak / play for less than they deserve or could get elsewhere, and many unpaid volunteers. He has no full-time staff. Additionally, it simply is untrue that there were no minorities asked to speak–the vast majority of them simply didn’t agree to speak.

    I have to ask: did you think about emailing Ben this post before making it public? Because I think, if you had, it would have strongly influenced how you wrote this in a different direction. There are two possibilities for the absence of minority voices onstage: either it is the result of deliberate neglect on STORY’s part, or it simply reflects the hand they were dealt within the time constraints they had. I think reality is the latter, but your post implies the former, and does so without having sought out Ben’s perspective on what really went on.

    I encourage you to contact Ben about this if you haven’t already, and to think about writing a follow-up post to clarify some of these things.

    • Rory, thanks for your thoughts here. The quote: “There were no black people we could find worthy of this stage…” was simply how being at the conference made me feel…that’s what it communicated to me. It says nothing of what Ben’s (team, etc.) motives were, it says only what my experience of the conference said to me especially because they did not address it. There is no intended implication of Ben’s budget or desires or concerns. I tried to go out of my way to give him the benefit of the doubt and stated that I “wondered” if there was a vision problem but that I have no idea. I also stated that I think having someone address it, even say “welcome black people” would have went a long way for me.

      I did not email Ben or talk to him beforehand simply b/c I did go out of my way to state that this was my experience at Story. As someone else mentioned below Ben’s platform is Story, this is my platform to state my opinion on it. And I’ve done it as fairly as possible.

      I did speak with one of the creative directors afterwards (on behalf of Ben & Story) & she communicated that they did reach out in several ways to others and got “no’s” etc. It still doesn’t account for the fact that I (& others) felt unwelcomed which could have been easily addressed by simply addressing the disparities. That is what I wanted to speak to. If you have a minority in the room expressing this (or a consultant, etc.) you can find ways to address the problems. It should have been addressed from up front. Someone -probably Ben- should have said from up front, this is our value, this is what we tried, here’s what we are hoping for. By not doing that it leaves lots to the imagination about whether or not diversity is a value at all. I could have said flat out: “Ben (or story) does not value a diversity of voices.” But I did not say anything of the sort. I said how I feel and what the conference communicated to me.

      If Ben & other conference directors are willing to listen to me & others they can go a long way in making minorities feel welcome at the conference…but they are going to have to drop the defensiveness and be willing to listen and admit how they’ve handled things wrongly. I hope and pray they will.

      Thanks for the comment & your feedback.

  • Felicity White

    I’ve got to be honest. I feel like you’re hatin’ on my people here! : ) And that makes me feel a little defensive (since I feel like I know their hearts are not as you describe here). But I can also tell that you are hungry for something that burns in my heart as well: reconciliation. But, again to be honest, I sometimes feel like I’m in a no-win situation. It’s a messy, messy thing. This post in some ways feels like a post I read recently about a person who had lost a child and the things NOT to say to her. Which left basically nothing to say. I work as a tutor in a situation where I am usually quite in the minority – but I also have the “power” in the room, so I see a difference. I have attended many black gospel church services (where in tallying, I knew I was the only pale girl there) that I love dearly. Dearly. But I don’t know how to wear that as some kind of badge when I meet “new” black friends. And I’m often hesitant to go out of my way just because someone is black. I’ve heard that can be offensive. I guess I’m just writing all this to say, I want to be with you. But I need help. So, tell me what to do. I’ll volunteer at your conference, too, if you want. : )

    • Felicity White

      One more thing and I’ll stop thinking out loud in your comments section. I agree and disagree with your statement: “I, we need a Sense of Place more than you.” I agree because I see it in my own city (Omaha, Ne). I see Omaha as a safe, friendly city but my friends in other parts of Omaha are trying to leave because the city is “dangerous.” I get that and it breaks me to know I have no answers. But I also think many of the people who come to Story have a different kind of need – maybe not less. They are the artist in a roomful of theologians. The designer in a roomful of accountants. They need Story to give them a sense of place. But since I agree with you also, I wonder if Story is really even capable of offering that sense of place for blacks in general as opposed to blacks who are creatives. So maybe you are asking more of Story than it can give? It is designed to offer a Sense of Place to creatives (and that can be improved upon to reach more minorities) but it can’t be the answer for an entire people group in general, can it? It’s a good think for us all to think about, so even though I’m a bit on the defensive older-sister side, I appreciate a good conversation about hard topics that don’t have easy answers. Would love to have it in person with you some time.

      • I should have clarified with that statement. Sorry, that is confusing. What I meant by that is: black Americans (in general) need a “Sense of Place” (in general) more than you white Americans (in general) where there are places of safety everywhere you go (in general). It’s part of a bigger larger conversation, prolly too much in the context of the christian conference conversation. Anyway, I get your point there. And yes, would love to speak with you in person.

        • Felicity White

          And I also hate it when I write something and KNOW what I mean and someone gets all picky with me on one sentence! : ) Sorry to be that person. Geez. But I see your point as well. There are not enough safe places. I wish I could be one, or make one or a million.

          • Oh my gosh, you are fine! Not a problem! This is a HUGE issue! I would TOTALLY expect there to be miscommunications. If there aren’t, we aren’t doing it right, eh? =) Thanks for the sentiment. I get it. (Also, will reply to your 1st comment soon).

  • carameredith.com

    I’m just finding you today, and am so, so appreciative of your words. This matters to me deeply as a woman; to me, when I go to a church or a conference and see all men up on stage, it’s an automatic red-flag. And as a white woman married to a black man, this matters to me for him and because of him and also for our son. Thank you for being brave and honest and real in conversation! I look forward to getting to know you through your writing.

  • Natalie Hart

    Just in case the Story organizers plead the “we don’t know of any…” here is a list of Latina Christians, some of whom are expressly storytellers: http://urbanonramps.com/heres-a-list-of-14-latina-christians-in-america-to-know/

  • Kristi Scott

    I know the feeling. I sent Invisible Children an email and several tweets about the lack of diversity in their speaker line-up at the Fourth Estate Summit conference that took place last August. They apologized and said they were still adding speakers and would include minorities. They did include some great minority speakers but it was still a mostly white-led conference in the end. I love what they do and I know their intentions are great. But I’m rubbed the wrong way when anything that promotes social justice is run by white folks. Minorities have very rich perspectives on social justice that young white men wearing Warby Parker glasses and TOMS shoes just can’t understand. Their hearts are in the right place but they have to check themselves if they want to fight for true social justice and not sexy glamorized social justice. That kind is just another, better looking, form of oppression.

    Okay…rant over. I should just write a post about it now. Love your heart, Grace.