Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.
Mandisa has many media appearances to her credit, including CBS Sunday Morning, CNN.com, and Playboy, The Humanist, and JET magazines. She has been a guest on podcasts such as The Humanist Hour and Ask an Atheist, as well as the documentaries Contradiction and My Week in Atheism. Mandisa currently serves on the Board for American Atheists and the American Humanist Association, and previously for Foundation Beyond Belief, the 2016 Reason Rally Coalition, and the Secular Coalition for America. She is also an active speaker and has presented at conferences/conventions for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Secular Student Alliance, and many others.
In 2019, Mandisa was the recipient of the Secular Student Alliance’s Backbone Award and named the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s Freethought Heroine. She was also the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association’s Person of the Year 2018.
As the president of Black Nonbelievers, Inc., Mandisa encourages more Blacks to come out and stand strong with their nonbelief in the face of such strong religious overtones.
“The more we make our presence known, the better our chances of working together to turn around some of the disparities we face. We are NOT alone.”
Here, we talk about trips, awards, and the summer.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You have some upcoming events and associated travels. You have some award nominations and notifications. What are some of the trips? What are some of the awards? And why are those important to put a stamp on for the summer?
Mandisa Thomas: Yes. The first is the annual Secular Student Alliance Conference, which is taking place in Los Angeles, July 12th through 14th. I was chosen as their Backbone Award recipient for 2019. It’s very exciting. I wasn’t expecting it, but it was an honor to be chosen.
In October this year, I will also be presented with the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Freethought Heroine Award for 2019. I was informed of this last year on their website, so it’s no secret. It was just announced on the 9th of July.
And next year, I will be receiving the Irving & Annabel Wolfson Award, which is presented by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Worcester, Massachusetts. They called to ask if I would accept the award, and I said yes.
For me, it feels a little weird, because I did not get involved in the movement to receive awards. But they ARE nice, like last year I was chosen by the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association as their ‘Person of the Year.’I just feel like what I’m doing what is necessary. But it’s an honor when people see the work and they want to recognize it. It is much appreciated.
Jacobsen: What is the feeling?
Mandisa: As I said, it feels weird, and I actually get a little nervous. I’m so emotional, so I start crying. I always think “Wow, what did I do to deserve this?”. I KNOW that it’s warranted, but then I also start feeling as if I’m bragging too much. So yeah, there’s that, lol.
Jacobsen: What comes to mind when you’re recognized as one of the premier community organizers in the secular communities?
Mandisa: For me, there’s a bit of pressure. Because once you are recognized, it’s nice to know that people are starting to see you and see your work.
But the expectation for me only gets more intense. And the recognition and the acknowledgement, while some of them do come with additional incentives, ultimately I start thinking that the expectations that come along with them far outweigh the special benefits.
It’s always a reality check in my eyes.I’m always up for new challenges and new bridges to cross. But it CAN at times be overwhelming, especially when I am still building my profile in the movement. And to a point where it’s more than a volunteer basis.
There was an opportunity for me to acquire a paid position for which I was passed over. While the awards are nice,it only sets the bar higher because at this point; there needs to be a way that I can be fully employed in this movement, especially with the recognition I’m getting for the work.
There’s always the “What’s next, then?” “What do I need to continue to do?” and “How do I make this work?” Not just for me, but also for the organization.
Jacobsen: Statistically, within the secular movements and communities, there are few women of colour. In addition, statistically, in the United States, you’ll find a few women of colour who identify “secular.” As someone receiving all these awards, does this amplify the sensibility of responsibility, pressure, and so on?
Mandisa: It does amplify the pressure and responsibility for sure. However, we’ve accepted those things when we got started, so we’ll just need to press on.
So I think the recognition solidifies what we’ve been doing for the past eight years. There are more of us out here. There will continue to be more of us coming up. We are becoming more visible.
I think perhaps the pressure will also be on the other organizations to really start recognizing the work that we’re doing. Some of them who have created their own awards have been around for some time, and have a more solid foundation, which is understandable and respected.
However, we hope to gain enough support to give our own recognition in the future. And we’d like to get to the point where we are able to recognize the women of color who are doing the work that is necessary, and for the movement to understand and sufficiently see that while by far, I am among the most visible, it isn’t just me out there.
It is NEVER just about me. That’s something that I always try to make clear whenever I speak, especially when I am speaking on behalf of the recognition that I’m given. So, there’s isn’t just pressure, there’s more stepping up to challenges that we’re working on. Hopefully, the recognition will continue for more people of color in this movement.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.
Mandisa: 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.
Canadian Atheist 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, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists,American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.