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 finances for organizations.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s make this a very old hip-hop/rap-inspired…
Mandisa Thomas: …[Laughing]…
Jacobsen: …’Ask Mandisa’. As per…
Jacobsen: Eric B. & Rakim, how do you get, as an organization or as a public speaking individual, “Paid in Full“?
Thomas: [Laughing] Yes, I absolutely love this! Thank you very much. If I haven’t said it already, Hip-Hop is one of my favourite genres of music. And Eric B. & Rakim is definitely one of my favourite rap duos. For organizations to be financially secure (ie, paid in full), it will take for us to basically do what we don’t like to, which is asking for money.
For many secularists, that can be difficult. That’s true for me too. But in order for us to really get to the point where we can do the things that we really need to do to help people, then we need money. There’s no getting around that.
I have worked in this movement to the place where I require an honorarium. Especially now that I am a full-time activist. I still need to pay bills.
[Laughing] I still need to help put food on my table. I have a family. I have a household to support. There are many people who say they appreciate the work that I do. But in order to really, really get it done, we need resources. This is true for many organizations.
It must be understood that we cannot provide everything for free. And while we know that people have been burned if you will, by their religious experiences, we need financial resources in order to do this work.
Jacobsen: What are the emotional hurdles? What is the feeling internally when you are first getting into that ring and getting bruised while asking for money?
Thomas: I know for me, and I have also heard this from other people, that there is a sense of embarrassment. You don’t want to sound like you are begging. There are also many people who because they have little expertise in this area, they are hesitant to do “the ask”, as the term is often coined.
There is also this feeling of guilt that you are asking for money that people may not have, and that when you DO ask, they will turn right around and ask you for help. So, that has also been very frustrating.
Eventually, you want to get over that fear of asking for what you need. Perfecting the technique is extremely important.
Jacobsen: How would this differ from asking for financial support through foundations to ask for a grant through public calls for donations when the example that you are giving are person to person or organization to organization on a person-to-person basis?
Thomas: Yes, you certainly are doing an ‘ask’ when applying for grants and funds on a larger scale. However, it is different because you are actually perfecting your ability to engage with people.
Many forget that there is an art to speaking with folks, especially when you are conveying your message and you are trying to let people how important your work is. Talking to people, either face-to-face or on a smaller scale, is definitely good for perfecting those people skills.
You want to establish those professional-personal relationships because then people know that you are genuine and are serious. That they’re not just a sort of ATM to you. That you are not only approaching them simply because you want their assistance, or simply because you want their money.
Perfecting the smaller scale ask gives you the practice for doing so on a larger scale in the future.
Jacobsen: Any final words on Eric B. & Rakim and their master plan?
Thomas: Wow. You got me. [Laughing].
Thomas: You got to learn how to do it, and just perfect it as they did, as they became hip-hop cultural icons. Maybe one day, you can learn to be a president like Eric B. We can continue to do so in ways where we reach people that is effective, and in ways that are considered unorthodox because times change.
We need to be able to evolve, as hip-hop culture has. Just as how it has transcended out of what is considered the inner cities, to the worldwide stage. It is also important to treat our non-profit organizations as businesses, and develop them as we need to. That way, we all can become paid in full.
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.
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.
Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.