Toriano Porter

Big Slick brings out stars for a good cause. Why does it feel like everybody’s white?

Of the 38 famous guests expected to take part in the Big Slick Celebrity Weekend festivities Friday and Saturday, only three are African Americans. And only one of them has ties to Kansas City.

That’s a bad look.

What started in 2010 as a small poker tournament organized by Kansas City buddies who happened to be famous has quickly morphed into a massive, all-star weekend that includes dozens of celebs and giant events at the Sprint Center and Kauffman Stadium.

Big Slick, which has raised more than $8 million for the Cancer Center at Children’s Mercy hospital, is a boon for the city. But what is now one of Kansas City’s biggest charity events doesn’t look like our diverse city.

Actor Seth Herzog joked last year that the boys of Big Slick — actors Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis, Eric Stonestreet, Rob Riggle and David Koechner — have taken heat for the group’s homogeneity.

“But they are diverse,” Herzog, who appeared with Rudd in the movie “Role Models,” quipped at last year’s star-studded auction. “They have every kind of white guy: short, tall, fat, Jewish, TV ugly. The full range.”

But representation matters. And there’s nothing funny about the lack of diversity at one of Kansas City’s premier celebrations.

Of course, Big Slick began organically. There was no grand plan to take over the city’s largest venues and attract a throng of actors, musicians and other famous folks. But even as the guest list grew, it never evolved or diversified.

This year’s celeb lineup does include Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, the NFL’s reigning MVP and an absolute must for the invite list. “Today” show host Al Roker is back for a return engagement. NFL commentator Curt Menefee and singer Selena Gomez are also on the short list of diverse celebrity guests.

But the list of white celebrities now numbers more than 30.

“There are many, many large social events in Kansas City that lack inclusion,” said Susan B. Wilson, vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “This is just one in a stream of activity that is just not inclusive, and I think it mirrors the dividedness of Kansas City.”

A spokeswoman for Big Slick said most invitations result from personal relationships among the five hosts, and that timing and availability of other celebrities is sometimes an issue. For every one celebrity guest who donates a full weekend to participate, there are at least five who can’t make the trip for a wide variety of reasons, including touring, filming or other obligations, she said.

Yes, successful hometown rap artist Tech-N9ne has appeared at Big Slick in the past. But organizers have consistently failed to book black celebrities with local ties — or even without local ties.

Where are comedian Eddie Griffin, Don Cheadle, who was born in Kansas City, or homegrown talent Janelle Monae?

Even Maurice Greene, the famed Olympic sprint champion from Kansas City, Kansas, would be a great guest. Wouldn’t it be a highlight to see Greene sprint around the bases at Kauffman Stadium during Friday’s celebrity softball game?

“Empire” actor Trai Byers also has roots in the Kansas City area, and Oscar-award winning filmmaker and KU professor Kevin Wilmott is right down the road in Lawrence.

None of this is an indictment of Big Slick or its benevolent hosts. They donate time and money to fight cancer, and they’re making a difference.

But what does it say to Kansas City’s minority communities when the public faces of the event are all white men, and the guest list is largely void of people of color? Perception matters, and the optics are stark. In 2019, diversity and inclusion should be intentional.

“Some charity events (in Kansas City) have gotten better, and some have not,” Wilson said. “This event sounds like it has some work to do.”

At the grassroots level, Wilson suggests that organizers, which include the hosts’ families and other volunteers, add diverse members to the event’s planning committee and recruit more volunteers of color.

“One of the reasons charity events are not inclusive is they are thinking of the people that are going to give big bucks,” Wilson said. “When they think about minorities, they don’t think they are able or willing to give big bucks, and those people stay on the sidelines.”

What’s not entirely clear is whether the glaringly white guest list is largely the result of a lack of effort on the part organizers or a lack of interest among African American celebrities who have declined invitations. But the result is a huge party that doesn’t feel welcoming to many people of color.

Of course, Hollywood isn’t exactly a bastion of diversity. But Big Slick can and should do better.

All Kansas Citians should feel included in what has become one of the region’s most anticipated weekends.

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