Color of Grace
Color of Grace LLC is a collaborative ministry created to step into the challenge of dismantling racism. Together with our current and former program participants, we hope to expand the network of individuals and groups who are engaged in the same work. We offer a collection of program modules and follow-up activities designed to help facilitate an antiracism journey within a group context or individual level.
Reflection on the 'Color' of Grace
“Color” is a defining factor in the construction of the false theory of race, a concept that has been debunked by years of research as reported by the American Anthropological Association in its projects noted in RACE: Are We So Different? (1) and as the APA stated in its definition of racism. Pairing the concept of “color” with grace (particularly God’s grace) locates our ministry in a sphere that calls up the prime divider in this context —color— as well the prime unifier —Divine grace— into the conversational circle of reckoning.
In this context, Grace is understood to be both color full and color free, in the same way that the waters of the ocean are clear, yet reflect the colors around or in it. The same water that may appear to be gold/yellow/rust/black because of the shoreline sand, may appear green as you move farther into the deep. A possible blue tint may be projected to our vision; and in the deeper places a dark and mysterious display suggests the great depth to which we have come. But, when you pull up a glass, the water is still the same clear liquid as at the shore.
One important dimension of anti-racism ministry is a movement against the overt as well as subtle use of the color of a person’s skin along with other biological features to define, denigrate, designate, and dismiss people on the one hand, while elevating another color for the opposite reasons. Both of these measures are inaccurate and out of balance. (2) Thinking about color in the way that the ocean reflects it provides a truer way to relate to color. We have been programmed, whether conscious of it or not, to see the color of one’s skin and assign meaning to it. We've been taught to use color within a human-made hierarchy called race that we must un-learn. Understanding color as it relates to the ocean frees us to think about color in the way God intended it—as a God-made reflection.
Color of Grace LLC rests its theological framework in opposition to racism on a belief in the grace of a Creator God who made all in the image of God. Each variance of human physiology is a reflection of God as the water of the ocean reflects what it beholds. In the image of God, all are one; all sacred; all God’s by design. We can let our old way of thinking about color—the human-made sin of assigning arbitrary value to one skin shade—float away. This ocean-inspired way of understanding color is healing. We can find grace in knowing that skin color is just one of the ways that we, as creations of God, reflect God’s beauty.
Color of Grace LLC turns the label “people of color” toward the Creator whose reflection we are. Our purpose in this work is to help each other to turn our “color allergies” into sacred reminders that we are a reflection of God to our neighbors, to the world around us. We therefore infer that that reflection properly embodies respect, dignity, inclusion, love in attitude and action. Together we are like God’s ocean, always turning, sometimes turbulent, some places too deep for sunlight to penetrate, but still and always bearing the capacity to reflect the richness and depth of Divine love and grace.
(1) RACE: Are We So Different? ©2020, American Anthropological Association
Color of Grace Team
Born and raised a native of the twin-island nation of Trinidad & Tobago (West Indies), Ele Clay fully embraces the multicultural upbringing that formed her understanding of community. Teachers and political leaders whose ethnic heritage spanned the globe were her childhood hall of fame. As a naturalized citizen of the United States since April 1, 1994, Ele adds to this awareness the struggle that it is to resist the labeling and silencing that cultures can impose, often without recognizing its effects. While her foremost point of reference for “home” is Trinidad, she thinks it is “quite what it should be” that the circle of her life in the United States should have begun with college education at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa; and emerge over time as a rostered minister in the ELCA(1) by way of Luther Seminary in St Paul, Minnesota. Between the speech and theatre emphasis of her bachelor’s degree and the master of divinity degree, a Master of Arts and a Master of Science degree in communication studies sharpened her awareness for the concerns of people and groups across cultures and other ways of being.
Of those, two ways have always encircled Pastor Ele—that of the cultural ground zero of her childhood years, and the ecumenical blessing of her faith life, formal education and professional career. She has worked locally and nationally in ministries focused on community service and sharing the biblical story of grace. She has helped to generate funding for domestic and international missions programs and has been given the opportunity to travel across the United States and to several countries for related purposes. Finding herself to be the first “woman” or “West Indian” or “African descent” in various situations over the years have challenged and intrigued her. But her own public silence on these matters finally ended when seminary colleagues urged her to express her experiences in some form of anti-racism work. A seminary independent study supervised by Dr. Mary Hess, co-author of the recent book, Becoming a White Antiracist inspired her to stay open to opportunities to “say more.”
In 2016, longtime friend Erin Anderson McCracken joined Ele in conversations about a ministry that might expand efforts for grassroots anti-racism awareness and change for the better, particularly within the ELCA(2). In 2020, global protests over the murder of George Floyd opened up a unique opportunity for reflection. With pastor colleague Austin Nickel, Erin and others, a six-week engagement called WorkSpace: Racism and US(3) struck a chord. Its accessibility to the “ordinary person” has stirred interest for more of the same or like kind. Spurred on by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that “The time is always ripe to do the right thing”(4), Ele has drawn together a diverse group now stepping toward the launch of a ministry through which WorkSpace: Racism and US (and other programs currently in development) may be offered as and where needed.
The Color of Grace team echoes the poetic voice of James Baldwin, found in a post by Cole Arthur Riley(5)— another dynamic new author of 2022. Baldwin said, “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” Adding a firm Amen to that Ele continues, “We stride forward into the freedom of vulnerable harmony—the essence of the life, death, and resurrection of our God of love in Jesus Christ.”
(1) Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
(2) Pew Reports and its own self-reporting identify the ELCA as the whitest denomination in the United States. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/27/the-most-and-least-racially-diverse-u-s-religious-groups/ National leaders have been calling for and persistently urging intentional authentic change toward acknowledging and encouraging participation of diverse groups in local and national expressions of the Church.
(3) The first WorkSpace: Racism and US was led by Cynae Punch Brown, director, Center for the Professional Development of Teachers, University of Houston Downtown.
(4) A quote from Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, page 92 in I Have a Dream: Writing and Speeches that changed the World, © 1986, HarperCollins, New York.
(5) Cole Arthur Riley is the creator of the Instagram blog, @Black Liturgies. Her first book, This Here Flesh was released on February 22, 2022, and quickly became a New York Times bestseller. Published by Convergent Books, a Random House imprint.
Austin Nickel is the Pastor at First Lutheran Church in Waco, Texas. Austin received his GED in 2004, and later attended The University of Sioux Falls, completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2011. While at USF he studied Theology and was a Youth Ministry major. He was heavily involved with the music programs at USF and served three years as concert choir chaplain.
In 2011, Austin started graduate studies at Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. It was during this time that he walked through the front door of First Lutheran in Waco, and because of their incredible welcome and love he stayed with them as their choir director and administrative assistant. He completed a Master of Arts degree in Christian Ministries in 2014; and in the following year was given the opportunity to serve First Lutheran Church in Waco as their Synodically Authorized Worship Leader (SAWL). In 2016 he attended The Lutheran Seminary Program of the Southwest for Theological Education for Emerging Ministries, and was graduated in the spring of 2019. Austin was ordained on November 2, 2019 at Seventh and James Baptist Church (That’s right he had his Lutheran Ordination at a Baptist Church), and is currently serving as the called Pastor of First Lutheran Church of Waco.
Pastor Austin has many passions, one of which is dismantling racism, and continuing to learn about his own racism. He has participated in several anti-racism retreats; is a trainee of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond; and co-facilitated this new program Workspace: Racism and US. He currently works with Pastor Ele Clay on developing more tools and programs for bringing awareness to the realities of racism. As a social justice advocate he is an avid reader on many subjects such as immigration, climate change, LGTBQ+ rights, interfaith works, and civility.
Being in the Lutheran Church Pastor Austin has led book studies with his congregation, among them Dear Church: A love letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US by Lenny Duncan; They are Us: Lutherans and Immigration by Stephen Bouman; and Shameless: A Sexual Reformation by Nadia Bolz-Weber. A committed movie buff, some of his favorites are A Patch of Blue, BlacKkKlansman, Awakenings, CODA, Schindler’s List, The Prom, The Color Purple, and Network.
Pastor Austin considers himself a constant student and lifelong learner who strives for awareness, justice, and self-improvement. The world is his classroom and all the people that he meets are his teachers. Some of his favorite things include nature, good food, time with family, friends, and colleagues, learning and advocating for social justice.
Erin McCracken is a co-leader of the WorkSpace: Racism and US program and also manages business operations for Color of Grace LLC. Originally from Omaha, NE, Erin received her bachelor’s degree in Speech Communication from TCU. Following college, she spent eight years living in New York City where she worked as a booking producer at MSNBC and then as an executive assistant at an investment firm. In 2011, Erin earned a Master of Education in Counseling Psychology from Columbia’s Teacher’s College. Steeped in multicultural awareness, learning, and understanding, this master’s program taught Erin to examine how her unique identity groups (including whiteness) create the lens through which she sees the world. Through her graduate studies, Erin began unpacking the construct of ‘race’ and the impact – on herself and others – of white privilege. Erin is forever grateful to have been part of such a diverse cohort of grad school peers who helped unravel a previously held belief that racism was isolated—bigoted attitudes, slurs, hate crimes, etc—to reveal the reality that racism is embedded in the foundation of this country’s systems and structures.
In the summer of 2020, at the invitation of Pastor Ele Clay, Erin participated in the first cohort of WorkSpace: Racism and US (WSR). Erin trained to become a WSR facilitator in the fall of 2021 and co-led her first WSR cohort in the summer of 2022. Erin is dedicated to a life-long anti-racism journey. While acknowledging her points of privilege and continuing to learn, Erin is committed to bringing anti-racist ways of being, thinking, and doing into her sphere of influence including her household, extended family, friends, church, and hopefully well beyond. Erin is particularly passionate about anti-racist parenting and seeking authentic diversity within her church community. Erin considers her work with Color of Grace to be an answer to a prayer. She lives in Austin, TX with her husband and two young children.
Michelle Jolley is a leadership coach and mental health counselor. Michelle's diverse background includes coaching, counseling, program development, staffing development, clinical management, office management, finance management and grant administration.
Michelle's greatest passion is helping others to promote themselves, identify their full leadership potential, while promoting equity. The focus on self to engage in uncomfortable conversations, while removing barriers, creating safe space, decreasing stress, improving communication. Michelle walks beside her clients in their journey without judgement. In 2020, Michelle co-led one of the Racial Justice Workshop’s Critical Conversation. This was an opportunity for all races to have an open conversation about race, unpack feelings/emotions and bring awareness.
Michelle has been actively involved in the Lutheran community since early childhood. She has served on various church committees. Michelle served as the Youth and Young Adult Leader for over ten years. She holds a Healthcare Leadership Coaching Certification from the Healthcare Leadership Institute at Virginia Tech. She also holds an M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and MBA from The Johns Hopkins University.
Michelle is based in Baltimore, MD. She enjoys spending time with her family, volunteering as needed with her church community and assisting with social justice projects.
Originally from Managua, Nicaragua, Jadher [pronounced Huh-d-ur] moved to the United States,Los Angeles to be more specific, in the summer of 1983. As an immigrant who didn’t speak the language, Jadher adapted to the US culture over time but kept his Latino heritage. To this day, he continues to nurture and treasure the culture of his ancestors. Jadher moved to Houston in the fall of 2007 where he currently resides. He is an avid baseball fan and loves hanging out with both of his kids and two grandkids.
Jadher is an active member of St. James Santiago Apóstol where he serves on the Redevelopment team and will be accompanying Augustana Lutheran Church in the same role, at the invitation of their Redevelopment pastor Ele Clay. Jadher has begun his candidacy process to become a rostered minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As St. James Santiago Apóstol enters the call process for a new pastor, Jadher will be in charge of pastoral care as well as Sunday worship during that process. Jadher attended Glendale Community College (CA) where he obtained his Associates degree in Political Science. He has worked in the retail industry for the last 30 years during which time he has nurtured many relationships with people of different cultural backgrounds. He treasures those friendships and he has learned a lot about traditions, biases, family upbringings and human interactions as a whole.
Jadher was invited to participate in the second cohort of WorkSpace: Racism and US during the summer of 2022. Being a part of such a group opened Jadher’s eyes into not only his own experience as a member of a minority group, but also into seeing those who shared their same experiences living as minorities here in the country where they were born and raised. WorkSpace has transformed this period of Jadher’s life in a very positive way. Before participating in this program, Jadher was of the mindset that speaking to family members and friends about all the injustice that’s happening around us was enough to make a difference. Jadher realizes now that he needs to rethink his approach and get out of his comfort zone by speaking out against those injustices with strangers and other social groups outside his own. WorkSpace helped Jadher to recognize the importance of resisting negative thoughts about others who don’t think the way he does. Having a better understanding of where are they coming from and where they learned to think and feel the way they do, is part of the process to understand each other. A helpful verse in this journey comes from Romans 12:12 “Do not conform to the pattern of this 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.”
Key words from the WorkSpace sessions like LOVE, COMPASSION, CARING, TOLERANCE, WELCOMING and DIVERSITY have inspired Jadher to help create a new feature of this program for Spanish speakers and those who share his Central and South American heritage. At the invitation of the COG Team, Jadher will be learning the structure of WorkSpace Racism and US in order to design a relevant culture-sensitive framework based on the WSR model for use in a Spanish language setting. Look for more on this addition to the Color of Grace offerings.
The Awakening Retreat
A weekend entry-point to a deeper dive into racism awareness.
WorkSpace: Racism and US
A six-week anti-racism forum centering on self-awareness through a participant-driven, project-based, diverse cohort experience.
A four-week reflective study progressing through four themes: UnBury, UnMask, UnLearn, Understand.
Checkbox: This is where we begin
One or two-day medium intensity training.
Embracing Gravity in the Ecosystem of Diversity
A medium intensity level of training, utilizing allegory to make connections an form understandings.
You Are Brave 1:1 Personal Coaching
45-minute one-on-one confidential sessions to help individuals process all that comes with finding one's place in dismantling racism.
For program availability and pricing information please contact:
Color of Grace LLC, PO Box 26262, Austin, TX 78755