Mandisa Thomas is the Founder of Black Nonbelievers, Inc (Twitter & Facebook). One of the largest, if the not the largest, organization for African-American or black nonbelievers & atheists in the United States.
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 making a change.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When we first met, you were excited about thinking of a transition from full-time regular work to full-time activist and administrative organizational work. Now, you’re over a year out of the position. What is the feeling there? What’s the general context of the transition in terms of impacting a life?
Mandisa Thomas: I remember when we first met, when we did the first set of interviews. I was still working at my previous job. I was the Event Services Manager at the conference centre in the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.
It was March 5th of last year. It was a Monday. I turned in the resignation. There were a number of factors that came into my decision to leave the job. I actually had been putting off the decision for a couple of years.
The organization was still being developed. I still needed a paycheque [Laughing]. I am the type of person who likes to fairly contribute to my household and make sure that we have everything that we need.
When I decided to leave the job, the family situation was changing. The circumstances were more favorable for me to leave. The stress that I was enduring at the job just wasn’t worth staying there anymore.
I was, again, given a certain time limit to leave. Things happen to come into place, where I left earlier than expected. Fast forwarding a year later, I already felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.
Now, more so, when I look at this past year and how once I left the job, there were still things going on, but I had more time and flexibility to do them. I am also able to spend more time at home and make sure the family has what they need from me.
Also, I am able to concentrate on activism, speaking engagements, and growing Black Nonbelievers. It is being to do that without the stress. It is a really, really great feeling. I was nervous at the time of doing it.
There were some uncertainties about where things would go. But as things have progressed over the year, I have been very, very happy with the decision and haven’t looked back since.
Jacobsen: When you’re transitioning, it is not a decision for anyone because more unknowns are ahead of you than knowns. However, some are at an abusive job taking advantage of them. Then they become compelled to do it.
For you, it was something at which you felt an internal drive to make the transition to running the largest atheist and nonbeliever African-American organization in America. Did you feel an ethical push internally to get on that train to get to the next stage of career and life?
Thomas: I did. Yes, it was definitely a decision. I knew that I needed to expand my growth, as well as the organization’s growth. I was would say; what was so difficult about the decision, the unknown and how things would go.
However, I left the job 4 months shy of my 10-year anniversary. I had been working there for quite a bit of time. It wasn’t the worst place to work. There were benefits. it was Monday to Friday. It was decent pay.
Unfortunately, with some of the circumstances of the job, mostly with work environment stuff, the change is the traffic or the traffic congestion in Atlanta became increasingly worse. So, the commute, daily, back and forth/to and from home. It was increasingly worse.
It was because I knew. I had developed good relationships with some of the people who worked there. I knew I needed to step out of there if I really wanted my brand and the organization to grow.
Because I couldn’t continue to work at that place. It was at a government facility. There were things that were pretty regulated, like most jobs. The way I work, and the way I like to work, through is the organization in order for it to grow, as it is now.
Also, it is to allow me to travel and speak with people and organizations that wanted to hear me. That part made the decision that much easier. It was not without hesitation or without feeling as if I was leaving something behind; that I had been a part of, for quite a bit of time.
Jacobsen: Do women have different considerations in career or job transitions?
Thomas: Yes, we have to consider, mainly, if we have children or our kids. What would life be like for them? In my case, I also have a husband who suffers from a terminal illness. I have to consider his care as well.
So, oftentimes, with women, our children’s wellbeing comes into it, especially with career advancement. We often feel that we can’t do certain things within a certain timeframe because we have to be concerned about our children’s wellbeing.
We have to be concerned about whether we’re fit for a certain choice or career path. Interestingly enough, considering that there are more men employed or gainfully employed within the movement compared to women who are primarily volunteered (as I am at this point), we need to consider our income. Our ability to maintain and generate income more than men.
That’s just the reality. There are still disparities when it comes to opportunities. We are always and expected, as we should be, to consider the family portion of that.
Jacobsen: In a healthy marriage, it has a sense of interdependency between the guardians, the parents, especially when it comes to raising the children. In the context or environment of raising children described in the previous response, how do you appropriately negotiate that with a partner, especially when that partner has a terminal illness?
Thomas: We were fortunate. Even though, my husband has a terminal illness. He is well-employed, in a very good position. He is a federal employee. So yes, he was affected. Our household was affected by the government shutdown.
Outside of that, he makes enough to support the entire family. In most families, we do have to consider the idea; we have to consider the possibility that, of course, income will be diminished. We have to figure out – most families have to figure out – how bills will get paid, how much more or less disposable income we’ll have, and also the emotional support.
When I told my husband that I was going to quit the job, I saw the look on his face. He was worried. He thought that I may have been overreacting, a bit. There were times when I thought about quitting before.
But it was dire enough. It was to the point where I knew I had to leave. He may or may not have considered the fact that this decision was ultimately to his best interest as well. I think in some marriages, relationships, and partnerships; there may be some hesitation and fears.
It is still unknown. You still don’t know what the outcome will be. When you know your partner is determined and that there are good opportunities on the horizon, especially with the, again, increasing demand for appearances, the increasing demand for work within the community, and working opportunities, it was pretty inevitable that things would turn out okay.
I think it is important for partners to discuss this first – don’t just go to your partner and say, “Hey! I quit” [Laughing]
Thomas: It doesn’t work that way. There are all these factors involved, especially with children involved. With our children getting older, our family changing, and with our health, even my own health, I had to take this into account, including the other factors taking place in the movement.
It was time to move forward from the job. It has not always been easy. But it has very much been worthwhile.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.
Thomas: Thank you very much, Scott.
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.