Lesson 1 - What is Inclusion? Telling my Purpose Story


On a blustery night in Chicago, January 10th 2017, President Barack Obama tearfully delivered his farewell address. On this day, it was his last official opportunity to speak to the most pressing issues that defer the dream of America. His past eight years provide a unique perch to see the nation and world like no other person alive. The wisdom of eight years was packed into a 45-minute speech. In these final 45 minutes, the President highlighted three pressing threats to American democracy:

1) “Economic opportunity,”

2) “Race relations and division,” and

3) “Taking democracy for granted”

Sandwiched in between the macro issues of economics and democracy was the issue of ‘race.’ I’ve included a portion of his speech to help us see, from his presidential view, the issue of ‘racism’ and its solution at this time in history. President Obama prescribes, what I call “the art of storylistening” as the best solution to racism in America.

President Obama’s statement on race:

There’s a second threat to our democracy. And this one is as old as our nation itself. After my election there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.

Now I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say. You can see it not just in statistics. You see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum. But we’re not where we need to be. And all of us have more work to do.

If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.

And we have shown that our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women. So if we’re going to be serious about race going forward, we need to uphold laws against discrimination — in hiring, and in housing, and in education, and in the criminal justice system.

That is what our Constitution and highest ideals require. But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change. It won’t change overnight. Social attitudes oftentimes take generations to change. But if our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face. Not only the refugee or the immigrant or the rural poor or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change.

We have to pay attention and [story]-listen.

For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment that our founders promised.

For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, and Italians, and Poles, who it was said were going to destroy the fundamental character of America. And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened. So regardless of the station we occupy; we all have to try harder; we all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.

And that’s not easy to do. For too many of us it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods, or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. In the rise of naked partisanship and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste, all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.

And increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there (Obama, 2017).

Here, President Obama articulated how race is one of the three greatest threats to the democracy of the United States of America. The President ended his analysis saying, “if you are tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one of them in real life.” This challenge to ‘talk to strangers’ implies that the ‘talking’ will be two-way, and part of that conversation will entail story-listening. We are challenged, now more than ever, to listen to people who experience the world differently than we do. We are challenged to talk to someone who may be ‘the other’ for us.

President Obama's challenge is to “presume a reservoir of goodness in other people.” In this book, our challenge for the reader is to take a risk and listen to the stories of people who may think vastly different from you. In this simple art of story-listening, you simultaneously create a new space of inclusion.

Purpose of the Book

“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief”- 1 Timothy 1:15

As I read this scripture and contemplated on this book I came to understand that the solution to racism was also one of my greatest personal weaknesses, “listening.” If I could learn to empathically listen to the stories of others who look different and think differently then anyone could learn to do the same.

This book examines diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism by taking a closer look at storytelling from the perspective of the listener. Here we use the research method of autoethnography (or life story telling) to better understand how to communicate and accept difference across race, culture, gender, ability, and identity. I have learned that the times in my life when I have failed at inclusion, patience, and empathic listening (Covey, 1989) have been the times when I did not eagerly listen to the stories of others.

My experience as a professor at both Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominately White Institutions (PWIs) has taught me that each student and teacher brings to class a unique story. I have made it my job to care enough about each student to become eager to hear their life story and background. It is their story, which colors the ways in which they approach the class, the material, their classmates, and their instructor.

To become an inclusive instructor and leader, for me, has been the journey to become an expert story-listener. It is when I position my body, mind, and enthusiasm as an eager story-listener that I can become a more inclusive leader. An inclusive leader creates a space where story-listening is common, expected, and valued.

Story-listening is the antidote to prejudice. It makes sense. Webster’s dictionary defines prejudice as, “preconceived judgment without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge.” Prejudice is to pre-story tell onto someone else. It is to read our own life story, stereotypes, and experiences onto another person without ever asking them. Prejudice limits our ability to see others clearly.

Unfortunately, there is prejudice in the classroom, the boardroom, and the courtroom. It happens when we create a space where ‘others’ voices and ideas aren’t heard, validated, and eagerly anticipated. It happens when arrogant professors (of whom I am chief) believe they are the only authority on a subject, and assume the false role of ‘expert in charge.’ This attitude of arrogance strips away the agency and individual authority of each student’s privilege to intellectually disagree. For me, it is a daily struggle to forgo my storytelling, teaching, and professing to enter a space where we all can become story-listeners. This book is an effort to cultivate a mindset of inclusion and empower leaders to re-create this mindset through story-listening.

In Chapter 1, we set the stage by discussing the art of story-listening and examining the research method of autoethnography. In Chapters 2 through 8, we practice story-listening by reading the diverse stories of courageous co-contributors. In Chapters 9 through 11, we examine three academic articles which utilize life-stories to introduce; a) the new construct of 'dross education,’ b) a grounded theory on the process of finding one’s calling in life, and c) a historical look at social entrepreneurship at HBCUs, and a prescription for liberal arts schools to create inclusion by cultivating social entrepreneurs who wrap entities around their positively constructed identities. In Chapter 12, “I Failed” I briefly walk the reader through one of my private failures on race to model self-reflection. In Chapters 13 through 22, we provide leaders and teachers practical inclusion training activities.

In summation, our book provides narratives, counter-narratives, academic research, and activities to better understand the Art of Story-Listening in theory and practice. The selected voices are former students, colleagues, and professors who share their stories and lessons on inclusion. It is our hope that this book helps your everyday practice in the craft of mindfulness and the art of story-listening.

Chapter 1: Background- The Art of Story Listening


In the book The Intercultural Campus by Greg Tanaka, the author describes his challenges as he tried to lead a group of college professors to embrace multiculturalism and change their courses to include more diverse content. Tanaka writes:

An attempt to conduct workshops in how to teach a diverse classroom met with partial success. One possible reason was that neither outside nor internal faculty consultants used the kind of “small group” format that was proving successful in the staff intercultural training workshops. Lecturing about what they considered “best practices,” some facilitators addressed the faculty only on an intellectual register and, as a result did not lead participants to investigate their own feelings, perspectives, or assumptions about diversity. With attendees “intellectualizing” their involvement rather than learning from each other through storytelling, there was less self-introspection concerning their own positions of power and their own rootedness. (Tanaka, 2007 p.139)

Here, Tanaka describes the difficulty of getting mentally dug-in intellectuals to change, their ways of thinking and listening. His research found that the staff and students (for a business this would be management and customers) who sat down together in small groups of four or five people and shared their life stories had more meaningful experiences.

Inclusion: The Art of Story-Listening creates a small-group, life, story-telling session. You will find humor, insight, faith, fear, shame, and love in these pages. Multiple people spent their time to think and feel deeply about their lives in the re-telling of these stories. We invite you to grab a cup of coffee or tea and sit down at our small group table to listen to the courageous authors as they spill their stories and lie bare their lives, naked before you. Then, we challenge you to do the same in your office or classroom. Share your story with others and develop a keen “ear” to hear more life stories. In the end, our hope is that you will begin to put into regular practice the art of story-listening.


The Art of Story-Listening

Art is expression. Every expression is unique and beautiful. Even in thick and dense forests, each tree is unique, and no two are exactly alike. There is not a standard definition or procedural steps to explain the Art of Story-Listening. I believe it’s a space that is created when a person genuinely cares about another human enough to listen to them. 

The Art of Story-listening is a mindset that subconsciously tells you when you meet someone new or different, “I wonder what his or her story is?” or “I wonder what the story is behind this person.” It is a mental eagerness to learn, not born of gossip or nosiness, but an eagerness to story-listen, which is born of love.

Stephen Covey’s description of “empathic listening” is a tool for improving the Art of Story-Listening. Covey’s research consisted of interviews with some of the most successful business leaders in the world. He found that one of the qualities that made these leaders so successful was their ability to genuinely listen to different types of people. In the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey writes:

           Empathic Listening

           “Seek first to understand” involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen   with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms [or mental lens], reading their own autobiography into other people's lives. “Oh, I know  exactly how you feel!”, “I went through the very same thing. Let me tell you about my experience.” (Covey, 1989p.239)

Similar to Covey’s description, a theology scholar, who was consulted in the preparation of this book, pointed to the scripture: “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” -James 1:19. I then asked myself this question, “Ok. It’s clear that listening is important, but how can I improve my artistic expression of listening in a way that’s personal, unique, and real?” I found the answer in an emerging research method called autoethnography (life-story research), which helps people articulate their life stories in ways that help others understand race, culture, oppression, power, etc.

Autoethnography (Life Storytelling) Approach

Life stories help readers with the understanding of processes, characteristics, people, context, links, multiple meanings, and cultural practices (Noblit, Flores, & Murillo, 2004). The thick and rich stories in autoethnography research help readers to understand the multiple perspectives of complex racial problems. Since racism is one of the top three threats to democracy in the United States, it is important to add diverse points of view to the ways in which we perceive and conceptualize racism, diversity, and inclusion.

The use of the auto-ethnographic research method allows each co-contributor to delve into their own reality while using the widely respected qualitative research tenets of autobiography and ethnography (Ellis, Adams & Bochner, 2010).

Learn Auto-ethnography

A comprehensive overview of the autoethnography research method can be found in a work by Caroyln Ellis et. al. (2011), entitled Autoethnography: An Overview. In Chapter one Ellis writes “autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno).” Ellis explains that this approach challenges canonical ways of doing research and representing others as well as treats research as a political, socially-just, and socially-conscious act. The method of autoethnography is noted for providing an alternative venue for marginalized voices (Hayano, 1979).


Homework Assignment #1 and Activity #1

What does the word “inclusion” means to you?.... Your administrators?.... Your students and Your parents may be different. In this class we define inclusion and how to highlight the inclusion strategies you use. We look at research to better understand multiple paradigms and stakeholders and how to delicately craft a common understanding and feeling of inclusion.

Assignment #1 "Teaching Inclusion Narrative'

Write your short 'teaching inclusion narrative' and how you have come to define inclusion. Give an example or two of how you believe you implement inclusion in your classroom or work. If you don't have any, yet, be creative and plan an activity and describe why you believe its inclusive.

Activity #1

After you have completed your 'teaching inclusion narrative' assignment, now complete Inclusion Activity #1 Finding Purpose.

This activity is from the book Finding Your Purpose in 15 Minutes. The activity ask 4 research-driven self-assessment questions to help participants articulate the story behind our purposeful drive in life. As you write your "Purpose Story" think about how your vulnerable story of people and pain connects with the reader.

Inclusion Activity 1.pdf
Inclusion Chapter 1.pdf
Complete and Continue