Ask Mandisa 3 – Building around Food and Fun

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Mandisa Thomas is the Founder of Black Nonbelievers, Inc (Twitter & Facebook). One of the, 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-religious community. I reached out to begin an educational series with one of the, and again if not the, most prominent African-American woman nonbeliever grassroots activists in the United States. Here, we talk about building around food and fun.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When it comes to some of the issues of hospitality, as it is called “Southern Hospitality,” what are some things you like to do for those who come to give talks, come to conferences, in the Atlanta, Georgia, area who are nonbelievers and hoping to contribute to the community as a speaker?

Mandisa Thomas: When I invite a guest, I bring them to a local restaurant and attractions, which are really, really nice to experience for those who travel from out of town. Being an organizer myself and someone who invites speakers, and welcomes people, to the area, whenever we have visitors here with BN in the Atlanta Area.

One place I like to go is Mary Mac’s Tea Room. It is a historic restaurant. I has been dubbed “Atlanta’s Restaurant” by one of the governors a while ago. It is a tourist trap. It is really, really good. I like to incorporate this into the events. It is good for meetups.

It overall incorporates a good opportunity for atheists and nonbelievers to come together over some good food and to have a good time.

Jacobsen: What have been the benefits to people who are coming into the community with this type of hospitality? Because some of the laments of some in the community, the secular community more generally, is not having a community as a baseline.

Thomas: Correct, a community can be built simply. It can be as simple as going to the favourite restaurant or coffee shop. It is doing it consistently. It cannot be a one-time effort. It has to be something that you are incorporating monthly, weekly or as much as your time allows; one of the things that have been good for me when I take people to this restaurant.

I like the look on people’s faces when they are enjoying the food.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Thomas: It is really, really amazing. It is your southern cuisine. It is the fried chicken, the shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes. You do not go there if you are trying to eat too healthy. But it is a really, really good experience.

Sometimes, it is nice to have the atmosphere where people can let loose and open up, let people know the experiences they’re going through. It is finding the like-minded people. It is exploring the camaraderie. It is connecting on the basic, human levels. What better way to do that than over food?

I think that part is really, really important because it is something that is often missed. Atlanta is a really good space for that. Not everything has to be monetized. But I do like to incorporate the more historic restaurants in the area that has really good food. It is a very, very enjoyable experience. It is important for us to provide more enjoyable experiences as a part of the community building so that people will continue to return and continue to participate.

They will, hopefully, continue to volunteer and take part in the activities that we do.

Jacobsen: I really like the idea of food as culture, food as a community builder. Could this be a way to build bridges with some of the religious community? For instance, I understand you gave a speech in a church, recently.

Thomas: I gave a speech in a United Methodist Church. That is correct. The pastor is a nonbeliever from what I understand. This is in Austin, Texas. Food, absolutely, is a great way to build community. Food and music are really, really great.

One of the things we like to incorporate in BN is part of the black experience. I love hip-hop. I love R&B music. I love jazz. We want to incorporate that love of music and creativity which many other atheists and nonbelievers share.

It is important for us to understand that many atheists do not come to their perspective simply by reading the intellectual books or the intellectual side. It is good to find other good things that people like; that we share.

I have found other nonbelievers that rap enthusiasts, even if we have disagreements about the content. We find that we share this in common with a lot of believers. There are many things we share in common.

My love for music is shared on Facebook. I have believer and nonbeliever friends who share that. We will discuss that. It is a good way to break down the barriers. In fact, one of my good friends – a good colleague – who is a pastor. We have even dined at Mary Mac’s Tea Room, which is, again, one of my favourite places.

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

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