Mandisa Thomas is the Founder of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. One of, if not the, largest organization for African-American or black nonbelievers or atheists in America. The organization is intended to give secular fellowship, provide nurturance and support for nonbelievers, encourage a sense of pride in irreligion, and promote charity in the non-religiou community. Here we talk about the recent transition from full-time work to full-time activism for Thomas and building community.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, you recently quit your full-time job to begin full-time activism. Why did you make the switch? How are you making the transition?
Mandisa Thomas: Yes, the reason why is that I founded Black Nonbelievers back in 2011. Due to some changes at my full-time job as well as the request and even demands with the atheist community, requests for me to speak or to participate in various projects (and boards that I serve on), it became clear to me.
I needed to take this activism into a full-time direction. I had already been contemplating this for the past few years while developing the organization. Now, it was the optimum time to take that step. Black Nonbelievers is still a volunteer organization.
I am doing my work with that. In the meantime, I have also created a Patreon link, where people can support my atheism, building content, as well as build content, and possibly a podcast. I am sharing appearances there.
I am sharing any information relevant to patrons and the community.
Jacobsen: Your background does show exposure to Christianity, Black nationalism, and some Islam. How will this be influencing your activism?
Thomas: I think this gives me a unique perspective to the table because of my exposure to religion but not indoctrination. I grew up very progressive, with a progressive mindset. I have a very unorthodox point of view.
I may say things people are thinking, but do not necessarily say. As a black woman who is an atheist, there is the freedom to have those discussions and reach people in a way that will help them personally and the community too.
Jacobsen: Who else, and what other organizations, provide that basis for black and African-American nonbelievers and atheists to build community, focus activism, and find the sense of belonging that they might not have otherwise?
Thomas: I may be biased. But we are the largest black organization within the atheist community, which is providing such an avenue. There are maybe smaller groups in local areas, but, particularly for African-Americans, we are the organization that is doing it.
There is still African American’s Outreach. It provides information. They are a subsidiary of the Center for Inquiry. There is also an avenue through the American Humanist Association, the Black Humanist Alliance. They are primarily an online entity.
Black Nonbelievers provides support online and offline for community building.
Jacobsen: What form does the online and offline community building take? Because I could see many ways that could take place.
Thomas: Absolutely, we host in-person events in the areas where we are located. We hold general meetings. We have potlucks. We have movie nights. We host various in-person events, which are mostly social with some as informative.
We also table at various events. We table at other outdoor festivals as well. We do some of everything that engages. Also, I am the co-host of a quarterly radio show here on FM radio in Atlanta, where we talk about everything atheism-related.
In addition to meeting in person, we do have a media outlet here.
Jacobsen: If you happen to know about any Canadian association or individuals who are leading a similar organization in Canada, can you recommend anyone? Or if people are looking to found a similar local organization in their own community to serve certain needs, how can they take those first steps?
Thomas: Actually, there is a David Ince in Calgary, Alberta. He is part of a Caribbean association. He hosts a podcast called Freethinking Island. He used to be in New York. Now, he is in Canada.
He is looking to reach fellow nonbelievers and atheists up there. I would recommend Black Nonbelievers is a domestic non-profit corporation in the United States. We are a 501(c)3, domestic. Until we get to a point where we are international, I would suggest that meetups are a good place to start for any organizers looking to build that medium for people.
But also, it would be good to look up the rules and regulations of their area to see how they can start a non-profit, can be tax exempt in some way, if that applies to where they live. Then once they have that information, we can point people in the right direction.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.
Thomas: Thank you!
Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.