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 contingencies in running events.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: One thing that can arise in running an event or helping others do so is having contingencies. What should be kept in mind?
Mandisa Thomas: With almost 10 years experience as an event services manager, I can speak to this sufficiently. For every event, there will be people who sign up or express interest. However, as time and the planning process goes, you will have some that will either not follow up, and even not show up. They will also sign up and drop out. This occurs with attendees and speakers, which can be very frustrating and daunting. Then you have to stay in touch with vendors and other organizers. It’s a constant stream of communication, which at times, feels so one-sided. This is something that should be kept in mind for all events. Prepare for things to not go according to plan. It sounds a bit pessimistic, but it is a good rule of thumb for organizers. Always keep in mind that while a large number of people may show interest, only a certain percentage will attend. Mind the initial numbers if you can help it. Otherwise, you may be responsible for charges, especially if you’re hosting at a venue that requires advance payment. Also, It is important to keep in mind to effectively promote the events. Whether it is through free social media platforms, paid advertising etc, let people know what is going on, but try to avoid sounding like a “bot”, for lack of a better term. Avoid sounding like you’re ONLY reaching out to sell your event.
Thomas: Always anticipate working as if you’re the only one doing the job while also working with a team. Usually, everyone involved will lend a great hand. But at the same time, I can’t help but think, “Hey, there are things that could go wrong”. It is always good to expect the best, but prepare for the wors. It is also good to have checklist for yourself. If organizing isn’t an area of expertise (or even if it is) it is always good to have that, and to establish timeline; to follow-up with folks and to stay on schedule. Ultimately, It is about making sure things don’t go all the way left at the last minute, and ensuring success.
Jacobsen: What were some things that went wrong? You wish you had a contingency, but didn’t.
Thomas: I can’t say anything that was so extreme that it wasn’t fixable [Laughing], or that things fell completely apart. I do recall for BN’s 5th anniversary celebration in 2016, that there were a few speakers who couldn’t attend at the last minute. Luckily, the hotel where we hosted the event was very flexible, and I didn’t have to pay any cancellation fees. But at that time, our materials were already printed, so when they couldn’t, it was like, “Yikes!”
[Laughing] You kinda wish that you knew people couldn’t attend in advance. Because it can become costly. But there are times when certain circumstances become difficult to gauge, so anticipation is necessary.
That’s one of the worst things. And it is always disappointing when some details fall through. But again, it’s never been anything that we couldn’t handle, and our events always turn out well.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.
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.