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 events, recent work, and representation.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We were talking about demographic tendency differences over time. You recently came back from a two-week travel and work spiel. What were some of the events? What were some noteworthy demographic changes you noticed in the last few years, while attending this trip?
Mandisa Thomas: Yes, I recently spoke and represented Black Nonbelievers at the Skepticon, which took a break in 2018 after 10 years, and then returned this year, in Saint Louis, MO (it was previously held in Springfield). I also had the opportunity to speak at the Ethical Society of Saint Louis that same weekend.
I also had the occasion to come back to my hometown area of New York City, where I spoke with two groups: the Humanists and Freethinkers of Fairfield County (HFFC) and the Long Island Atheists.
For the first group, the first time I spoke there in 2015, there was a nominal crowd, with only about 2 to 3 people of colour in the audience.
This time, the organizers were very active in advertising the event, because they wanted more attendance. We also wanted more people of colour to attend. Now that we have a New York City affiliate of Black Nonbelievers, we were able to help. I kept some copies of the flyers; they looked amazing. And this time around, there was a crowd of approximately 50 people, which for the venue where it was held, was amazing. And about a third of the attendees were people of colour. So not only was the promotion better, but there was genuine interest from said folks in attending more events, as well as displaying their visibility as nonbelievers.
Also, the fact that the talk resonated so well is very important. There was also a young black man in attendance who was a reporter for an outlet called Subverse. He saw one of the flyers that were posted, covered the story, and made a YouTube video. There are some interesting comments on said video. I always tell myself, never read the YouTube comments, because they can be quite “trollish”. But it was quite interesting to see the feedback. Overall, there was a clear difference between the visibility from four years ago and today, which was inspiring. It showed that some predominantly white secular groups are committed to outreach improvement, especially for people of colour and in their activities. Also, the fact that our organization has grown and expanded has been a huge factor. Therefore, we are able to establish more networking and collaborative opportunities. We are making progress in areas of diversity and inclusion.
Jacobsen: Do you consider this more an increase in recognition of organizations representing those populations for African Americans or black folks in the United States feeling more comfortable coming out? Or is this people feeling convinced more within African-American communities by non-religious and secular arguments, in finding more appeal in those communities to come to those events, or both?
Thomas: I think it is both. First, it does make a difference to have representation. I speak on this often – what organizations should be doing to retain people of colour within their membership and also in their leadership. Of course, I reiterate the need to support organizations like BN, and others geared toward marginalized groups, as it does not take away from their membership – rather, it SHOULDN’T. But more people of colour are also finding their voices, as well as communities for support. Because yes, evidenced-based thinking and life approaches make more sense. And the more platforms we offer and the better the representation looks, the more we can strive for what is needed in our community.
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.