Ask Mandisa 18 – Mandisatory Leadership: Meeting People Where They Are

by | March 10, 2019

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 leadership and meeting people where they’re at.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You started the year off with a bang. What happened?

Mandisa Thomas: Yes, this year HAS started off with a bang. Most recently, I was in the Washington, D.C. area. I presented with the American Humanist Association as part of their speakers’ series.

I also had the opportunity to visit the Pew Research Center. They are in the process of creating a new poll in a research study regarding blacks and religion, and they wanted to get our input on how they can be more inclusive of the black atheist demographic to get more participation.

In recent studies, they’ve found that Black millennials in particular are leaving traditional beliefs behind. In the church, the numbers are dropping. So, they really want to expand the scope to include atheism within the black community because when they do their initial research, we are still vastly underrepresented.

I also was in town for the annual Secular Leadership Summit, which was a two-day event for the national leaders of the secular organizations. It was there that also co-presented a workshop on improving diversity within the movement.

And last but not least, I had the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill and do some lobbying, in partnership with the Secular Coalition for America. We spoke with some of the representatives who are part of the Congressional Freethought Caucus.

We spoke about our organizations, and we thanked them for being in our corner, and ensuring our rights are protected on Capitol Hill.

As a result of this, I am hoping to have meetings with representatives from the Congressional Black Caucus to talk about Black Nonbelievers and the growing number of blacks who are nonreligious. Specifically how this represents changing voting patterns and why it matters.

Jacobsen: For those who are looking for becoming more involved in giving speeches, informing some of the demographic research, approached in some way, what would be the recommendations for them, in terms of them further informing the research and providing insightful presentations on the unique experiences of the community?

Thomas: My first recommendation is to show up to different events, and start speaking up and letting people know where they stand. People won’t know unless you say something.

We hope that by working with Pew Research, there may be opportunities for focus group sessions with people from the organization. It will be important for our members and others to show up and participate. This adds to the research as well as being beneficial overall.

Jacobsen: What was the feedback on the presentations by you?

Thomas: The feedback was pretty good. My talk was on how to effectively manage secular organizations. Sometimes, that means managing people and managing leadership. 

Considering the climate of the movement, it is important. The talk with the American Humanist Association was their most well attended in the series to date. That was good to know. 

We received some great responses from the diversity and inclusion workshop as well. It was for the leaders in the movement. There are some general best practices that we try to learn from other speakers. Apparently that went over well.

Jacobsen: If someone in your position of leadership is invited to present at an organization or for a group that is not necessarily non-believing, how should they approach that opportunity? What might be a bridging presentation on the topic as well?

Thomas: I try to get as much background information as possible. Recently, I was a guest on a Christian radio station in Indiana, which turned out better than expected. The host was very fair and objective, and assured me that insults would no be tolerated from callers. 

I tend to have a hard time turning down an opportunities like that. I like to discuss Black Nonbelievers as an organization: what we do and why we’re here.

I think it is important for these audiences to understand why it is hard to openly identify as an atheist, especially if you ’re black. Christian audiences need to hear this too.

I also like to present on historic black humanists and freethinkers so the community is reminded of our presence and that we have always been here.

There are some major accomplishments in history on behalf of blacks who challenged the institution of the church. These types of presentations are often very helpful.

I find that when we come from an educational and a relatable stance, it tends to go over better.

Something that affects our community in its entirety tends to be more understandable than something that would only affect black atheists, though they need to understand what areas affect us more.

Certainly with the subject of religion, we can convey that we are all affected by it.

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

Thomas: Thank you.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.

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