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Chat with the Founder of Black Nonbelievers on Community Building and Public Engagement


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/04/23

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: There are a lot of terms that float around with regards to formal non-religion. Those who are often termed “the Nones” or “the religiously unaffiliated.” They can be “Brights.” They can be “atheists.” They can be “agnostics.” They can be “humanists” and so on.

Within a humanist context, so as a particular example today, what does atheism tend to mean to you?

Mandisa Thomas: Atheism is simply a lack of belief in any gods, spirits, or supernatural beings. That is the simplest definition. It comes from the rejection of such gods dependent on your upbringing. Or it just means that you don’t believe in them.

Jacobsen: That provides a one-time blanket denial. In other words, what people do not believe, how does humanism healthily build on that foundation — because most humanists are atheists — to provide certain affirmations about what people feel are appropriate values in their lives?

Thomas: Let me say, that they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Because one is an atheist doesn’t mean one is a humanist, even as you said most humanists tend to be atheists. Humanism, in the context of coming to terms with identity as an atheist, means looking for ways to still do good as a human being.

That incorporates atheism and their humanism, how they are able to do good without the ideas of divine intervention as well as applying religious tenets to it.

As an atheist, I am able to give up a lot of stigma and indoctrination. My atheism has allowed me to care more about human beings regardless of who they are. It has allowed me to become less stigmatizing of the LGBT community.

It has allowed me to look at things differently. I have found that I can do more to help others simply based on myself as a person. Once people come to terms with their atheism, they are still looking for ways to help improve either on societal issues or community-building. So, we should be able to do good without that stigma or fear.

Also, there is this idea that the religious hold the monopoly on community and caring.

Jacobsen: There is a general ethos for an ethic for humanists, and atheists for that matter too. But there are different emphases based on concerns or issues they may have in their community, or individually.

If you look at the American context, or your local context of Atlanta, even as specific as a state, what are the general concerns that American humanism tends to take on?

If you look at the younger humanist generations, how do they tend to orient themselves and their ethics?

Thomas: In a way, that is starting to shift. A lot of humanists take on a lot of church-state separation issues. But now, the younger and people of color are getting involved in more Black Lives Matters issues, LGBT issues, reproductive rights issues, and so on.

Also, there is, recently, in the United States the issue of gun control and safety in schools.

Jacobsen: There are some important voices that are within the black non-believing community in the United States, such as Anthony Pinn, Sikivu Hutchinson, or Sincere Kirabo. Who seem like some leading lights to you?

Thomas: I would say Sikivu Hutchinson. Also, Alix Jules who runs our Dallas affiliate. Also, Bridgett Crutchfield who is our Detroit affiliate and is on our board for Black Nonbelievers. Those are the main ones that come to mind.

Jacobsen: Your experience with building community and being in hospitality industry. These are skills crucial for any set of communities- or theme-based movements. So, how can people build and organize for particular humanist or nonbelieving activist activities in their locale?

Thomas: I hope to be working on this in the future, e.g., developing workshops for engagement and communication. If individuals are working, if they have jobs that incorporate customer service, these help engaging with more people.

There is a period of self-reflection needed by people. Our sense of identity as people does not have to preclude not thinking of others. There is a way for us to become comfortable with ourselves all while being mindful of how we engage others.

I think that is something in the community that we do not encourage. There have certainly been codes of conduct implemented at larger events and at some of the local events too. That is a good place to start. I think there are plenty of online classes that people can take as far as people engagement.

We can build upon this area for people to come together and develop those skills. We can look at the model of the church too: How welcoming they are but without the manipulation, guilt, and fear.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.

Thomas: No problem!


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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