Keeper of stories

Product Marketing Manager Samuel Briscoe leverages his unique upbringing and multicultural heritage to challenge biases and drive change on the sustainability front. 

I grew up in an intentional living community in Berkeley, California. Some might refer to it as a “commune,” but that is a term that makes my mom and many aunts cringe, since we weren’t confined to a single property. Rather, we moved together in solidarity in a way that might now be called mutualism. Our community was primarily queer-aligned, with the bulk of my teachers and caretakers women, many lesbian, and with just three men, including my dad, who I spent regular time with. It essentially operated as a modern kibbutz associated with Jewish-adjacent values, where everyone lives and follows a particular set of principles with shared responsibilities and resources.  

Everyone contributed—kids were expected to attend school and help with chores like gardening and housework, and adults took care of other responsibilities like food prep. It was an upbringing that shaped my early ideas of family and community, one that was a world apart from American mainstream society. On top of this, my mother taught me and others to live off the land, survive disasters, and navigate the woods, as part of our cultural traditions. 

Becoming a keeper of stories

I was marked as a storyteller by my Indigenous community at a very young age, memorizing fables about farmers and donkeys and lessons about trees and tricksters. As a designated cultural storyteller, you are essentially responsible for keeping your family’s past alive while crafting a future that honors one’s heritage. 

Elders in our community usually handpicked and trained younger storytellers. They would tell all the children stories, and the children who retold the stories the most clearly got told more stories. Rather than being formally told, “You’re a storyteller now” at that age, elders and mothers start telling you stories and giving you tokens that you learn iteratively with your retellings and their corrections. When they recognized the potential in a child, they’d congratulate the parents for having a keeper of stories on their hands.  

Learning to tell these stories was like learning to master a sport, in that it involves a “flow state” more than any active memory tricks. I now have hundreds of stories memorized, all based on years of gathered up knowledge and lessons, that are meant either to entertain, educate, or both.  

My Jewishness, my Blackness, my Indigeneity

I’m Black, Indigenous, and Jewish, and because of my visual racial ambiguity, I operate from a privileged position. I’ve been expected to use that privilege to advocate for our broader community from a young age. This might mean helping with legal paperwork, technology access, or speaking with outside authorities. I’m then expected to teach those learnings to my elders and community, so they can be uplifted in the world even as they uplifted me. 

When it comes to my identity, I don’t experience a lot of doubt or discomfort around it. That’s one of the many advantages of growing up in a community where I had access to living elders who served as a stabilizing force.  

In the Black community, my cultural identity is generally accepted without question. Black people get it. Where things get more complicated and questions arise is around my Indigenous and Jewish heritage.  

My family’s Indigeneity is complex and interconnected with its Blackness. On my mother’s side, we have connections via her mother to the Siksika, but my grandmother chose to identify as Black due to the social dynamics of the time, as she came of age during desegregation and the civil rights movement. Meanwhile, my maternal grandfather—a member of the Cherokee nation and not wanting any reminder of growing up on the reservation in poverty as a Black and Indigenous person—distanced himself from his heritage after becoming a successful lawyer.  

On Indigenous issues and in Indigenous settings, I frequently step to the front because I am too often the darkest person in those spaces. But in the Black community, my role is more to leverage my privilege as a lighter-skinned person rather than be the “face.”  

In the community I grew up in, my family practiced something often called Karaite Judaism, even as we lived and practiced with members of the Modern Orthodox and Chabad movements. Karaite Judaism is a term that refers to Jewish people who do not hold rabbinical interpretations as holier than other interpretations. Often this means we follow older traditions and interpretations from before the rise of Rabbinical Judaism. Being able to declare that I’m a particular kind of Jewish person means I’m aligning myself with Jewish people internationally, whether from China, India, or Madagascar. It’s saying we do not need to align to a particular European stream of Judaism to be Jewish, even if it is the one that gets the most attention.  

Blending the cultural with the technical

At Microsoft, there’s my job that I get paid to do: sustainability technical product manager, where I create demo assets to help further our sustainability efforts, specifically for Microsoft Cloud. And then there’s my role as an internal colead for the Indigenous at Microsoft Employee Resource Group. It’s a role that connects me with my heritage and allows me to further an understanding of Indigenous culture within the company. 

I initially worked for one of Microsoft’s retail teams in Portland, shifting there from my prior work as an educator. That retail role involved community outreach and assisting with sales. I was chugging along there until the pandemic turned everything on its head, and suddenly, we were all in full sales mode. From there I worked in remote and digital sales with schools across the United States, focusing primarily on Oregon. Those experiences, both in-store and remote, helped me build the social capital and skillset I needed to get into ACE for Stores a program dedicated to moving former Microsoft Retail employees into Microsoft Corporate, which is now part of MCB Aspire. It’s that program that led to my first corporate role, working on the cross-industry cloud marketing team.  

In my current role, still on the industry cloud marketing team but now focused on sustainability, I use storytelling to make Microsoft’s technical offerings in that space shine for the field during sales conversations and at third-party events. I call it technical storytelling. It’s about presenting complex technical solutions in a way that’s immediately engaging and compelling. For example, I might say, “Hey, you need data from your factories in order to report on sustainability, and right now you don’t have a structure for that. Now you could spin up an SQL server and do something complicated with code, or you could use this low-code product, and here’s how it can help you.” In that way, technical storytelling can help reveal how our products can streamline processes and save valuable time. When it comes to sustainability as a practice, though, there’s no silver bullet. Sometimes you need a research lab, and sometimes you need a creative marketer that helps you get the word out about technical solutions. 

Technical storytelling and the cultural storytelling I do outside of Microsoft share a common thread—both involve educating and using similar skills. But cultural storytelling often shares wisdom more subtly, whereas technical storytelling is usually more directed at solving problems. 

The strength of one story

There are people who talk about the danger of a single story and others who talk about the strength of a compassionate story. Whatever your framing, it’s true that when people are unable to imagine a particular way of being, it becomes easy to listen to and believe people when they say anything about that way.  

I’ll use an example that I love: how people feel about sharks. Before the release of the movie “Jaws,” many Americans knew little about sharks outside of an aquarium. A phenomenon called “The Jaws Effect” changed everything. Suddenly, people were convinced that sharks were not passively but actively dangerous and needed to be hunted down. This is important because it led to more shark killings and more negative human-shark interactions.  

This example illustrates the danger of a single story. When people know only one story, it’s easy to accept it as the absolute truth. In my role as a storyteller, especially on topics around Judaism and Indigeneity where people either don’t know much or have only heard negative stories, I like to talk about the huge rich history of these cultures. Even if I haven’t convinced them that I’m right, I’ve shown them that there’s more than one story.