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 speeches and music.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, you have been involved in some conferences in the past and in giving speeches. This is beginning to ramp up, a bit. This is exciting. Because, the first time we met, you were indicating to me, and likely to others, a personal desire to move from work to activism.
That seems to be blossoming. What are some indications about it?
Mandisa Thomas: Yes, last year on March 28 was my last day at my full-time job at the CDC. I turned in my resignation on March 4th. The reason – or part – for leaving was because of my work with Black Nonbelievers.
I was attending more nationwide secular events, which ultimately led to more speaking engagements – including Puerto Rico last year. This also led to being featured in other major publications, such as The Humanist and Playboy magazines.
This change has increased my flexibility, which was great. Because almost immediately, my calendar started filling up. It has become easier for me to travel and to do my work with the organization and my own brand.
I like being able to travel and commit to this work without having to rush back to a formal job, which became very stressful and mundane for me. This is exactly where I set out to be and am glad about where I am right now.
Jacobsen: What are some speaking engagements in the past, as a speaker or a keynote for 2019? What will be the topics?
Thomas: My next engagement is in Washington, D.C., with the American Humanist Association as part of their speaker series. I will also be in Minneapolis later on in February.
March is a hectic schedule. I will be speaking in Atlanta on March 1in New Orleans on March 16, in Nashville on March 23, Pittsburgh on March 27, and Houston on March 31.
Other major events for this year are the Women of Color Beyond Belief Conference, and BN’s SeaCon 2019.
The topics range from effectively managing organizations to religion in the black community, and how BN helps those who have left religion, and also helps the secular community.
Because it is a thriving community. I discuss ways to maintain it, and keep it alive.
Jacobsen: What are some talking points with regards to risk factors of declines in membership in certain secular communities? As we know, some communities – small and medium-sized – have collapsed int the past. Although, they have recovered too. But they have collapsed given a variety of factors.
Thomas: Some reasons include burnout. Many people are inspired to start groups, but they take time and dedication to maintain. Most of the work falls on a few people’s shoulders. I know that from experience. It can be exhausting.
Also, certain people who get involved have this idea that we must tolerate everything and everybody. There are some people who come into the community and have a lot of baggage, whether it’s from religion or other experiences.
It is like we’re expected to be everything to everybody. That is impossible. When we continue to keep people that don’t work on their own issues, it can drive other people away. It can be a problem.
Life also gets in the way. We all have families. Most have jobs. When people start getting involved, they tend not to manage the time. It is also challenging getting others to help. There are plenty of suggestions. But getting people to step and DO can be hard.
Those are some of the factors that cause some collapsing. Also, not enough continued financial support. Some people were burned by their church experiences and giving large amounts of money, so they are hesitant about giving money to secular causes.
What they need to understand is, for things to thrive, there must be mass financial support. It is about showing the work that we’re doing. It is going towards our effort, towards our time. It is going towards things that are needed.
So it’s ultimately a combination of factors. But also, one of those things that I see as an event professional, is there are many who take planning and maintaining the groups for granted. It is important to be consistent.
Jacobsen: We have talked about dealing with some difficult people in the past. For those who want to view it, they can see earlier in the series.
What about those individuals who don’t necessarily want a secular community but are disaffected with their fundamentalist community? They are in between. Any recommendations?
Thomas: There are Sunday Assemblies across the U.S. It is similar to a church. But it is a fellowship. Many of us are fellowship oriented. We try to bring people together for activities.
Our groups also respect anonymity. You do not need to be open with humanism, atheism, agnosticism, etc. though we encourage people to do so at their pace, and whenever possible.
Some of the organizations provide things others do not. It is not a one size fits all community, as with life. There may be secular community or activities that may be more religious in nature. Maybe, you can tolerate that part of it. It is totally fine.
It is a decision that you can make. However, if you are a person who likes to fully engage, and want to be more involved in the secular groups, it is good to upgrade your participation. You’ll be helping to cultivate and grow the organizations.
Because it doesn’t happen without the people willing to step up, volunteer, and become involved.
Jacobsen: One thing I noticed about some Sunday Assemblies that may have more European attendees may be The Beetles, and so on.
For those wishing to attract a wider cultural audience, could there be recommending Mary J. Blige, some Nas, some Lauryn Hill, and so on, for them to expand their appeal?
Thomas: When I participated with the Sunday Assemblies in the past, I always recommended them to play McFadden & Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.” It is very positive. There is nothing religious about it.
I do encourage more people of color who are going to participate in the groups to offer the recommendations and to expand into other genres of music.
There is a lot of good, uplifting, positive, and R&B music from the black community that we could tap into. It takes work on the part of the attendees and the organizers.
At Black Nonbelievers, we certainly embody black music and black culture. Some of the artists you mentioned tend to be spiritual or religious in nature. I would recommend doing more research for them because there is plenty of music out there. It can be a blast, and positive as well.
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: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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.