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 managing chaos with a pandemic example.
*This was conducted near the start of the pandemic.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, we are beginning to see an uptick in some of these cases of the virus, COVID-19. At the same time, we are seeing a number of inadequate actions as well as leadership in terms of speech. How can or should, in these kinds of cases, leadership improve? How can some of the secular communities voice their own concerns around somebody’s issues because this will be something impacting all communities in the United States?
Mandisa: We are indeed seeing a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States. Which is due in part to our current presidential administration’s failure to communicate how infectious this disease could be, and enact safety measures within a time period where it could’ve been controlled more effectively. It is alarming that this pandemic wasn’t taken as seriously as it should have been, because many thought that it was something that only affected other countries. Now, we’re seeing an enormous rise of cases in the United States, which has chaos, and has also resulted in unnecessary deaths. In any situation of this magnitude, even if people fear what is to come, the best thing to do is to be honest about the circumstances, and what we can do to help. In all fairness, early on, there was still very little information about this virus and how to try and contain it. But as that changed and more became available, then it should have been shared, and safety measures put in place as soon as possible. Many companies/organizations have cancelled or postponed their spring 2020 events. American Atheists, for example, made the decision to postpone their national convention that takes place Easter weekend until 2021. Even though I personally was apprehensive about this (and dare I say disappointed), I understood the need to do so. And now we’re seeing that there are a number of major events that are being cancelled or postponed in the meantime, it shows the level of forward-thinking on their behalf. The risk that having large in-person gatherings is too great right now. And as always, I think establishing open communication, answering as many questions possible, and pointing people to the most valid sources for information and actions will be crucial in turning this thing around.
Jacobsen: What about boundaries? You had some comments there as well.
Mandisa: Yes, so with the COVID-19 virus, it is now mandatory for people to establish necessary boundaries with others because of its respiratory and airborne nature. Large in-person gatherings are now prohibited (no more than 10 ppl at a time) until this can be controlled. Also the 6-foot rule, and wearing masks and gloves when going outside, has been advised. To enter certain premises, it is now required. We need to make sure that we are protecting ourselves and others – especially if we are sick. And not just with COVID-19; there are still other illnesses that we need to be concerned with. Oftentimes, we do not think about how we affect other people when in the general public, so now there must be some limits imposed. This isn’t just about ourselves, it’s for the well being of our loved ones, and the general public. It’s important now that we do this in order to reduce the spread of the virus. Most states have enacted mandatory stay at home orders, with the exception of essential needs and outdoor activities (within reason), which I think everyone should be complying with accordingly.
This is a good lesson for us in general, for thinking about and improving how we engage each other, especially during times like this. What measures we should take to protect ourselves and those around us. It starts with good communication and boundaries, and I am convinced that they will really help in containing this illness and our overall health.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and the PSA, 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.
Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.