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.
*This was conducted May 18, 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What are some things people should keep in mind around reaching out to secular organizations about having a sensitivity about people being on the other side and organizations having certain capacities?
Mandisa Thomas: It is important to understand many secular organizations, like Black Nonbelievers, are still recent and growing. We are still trying to build solid foundations, particularly with community, and visibility. We understand many who leave the church may feel “burned” by those experiences and are jaded by the fact that they contributed a significant amount of financial resources without much in return.However, we cannot do our work without the support of the people. It doesn’t come out of the sky, and we still need more people to donate regularly. For BN in particular, it is harder to tap into those who have deeper pockets (five figures or more). We hope to reach that point and, receive some substantial endowments in the future.In addition to financial support, volunteering time and efforts helps us provide a more solid foundation for our organization.
Jacobsen: You do have discounts for students without particular resources, e.g., students. What do you not have discounts for, even though people may think that you do?
Thomas: For our events, we do offer student rates. This is because students are usually on a limited income and budgets. Their means are not as great as someone who may be working full-time, or may have more disposable income.Recently, I was asked about a senior citizen’s discount for our 10th Anniversary Celebration. I understand many senior citizens are also living on a limited income, however, in order for us to provide that subsidy, we would need more people supporting our events and the organization.Like students, we want more senior citizens (or as I say, folks of a more “mature” age) to attend our events and seek to be more accommodating. But that depends on who is willing to help in that area more, including as individuals of said age group. Far too often, we have people who utilize our resources and utilize our community, but still overlook the fact that we still need financial support in order to operate at a level that will be enjoyed by everyone.
So. we hope that EVERYONE is mature enough to understand this and prepare, especially since we send out the information within a considerable amount of time. If someone automatically asks for those types of discounts, we hope that they take into consideration the amount of time, monies, and other resources placed into our events, and our overall work.
Jacobsen: Is this a bigger problem for organizations that are appealing to populations in the United States who don’t have a significant pool to draw from, e.g., organizations like Sikivu Hutchinson runs, Women of Color Beyond Belief Conference, or Black Nonbelievers?
It’s a different context when as per the demographics of Pew Research and others. The number of black nonbelievers is increasing, but is still a superminority within that relevant demographic group. Is that exacerbating ordinary problems that you’re noting?
Thomas: That’s part of it, but I also think it’s where priorities are placed. People from minority groups who are so used to embodying suffering think (at least it appears), that when we create organizations and events, that they automatically come with enough resources to accommodate free admission. As much as I hate to say it, there are enough black atheists and enough members of Black Nonbelievers to sufficiently contribute to the point where we can have a working budget of five figures and more.No one is trying to get rich off this organization – definitely not me, and I will not allow anyone working directly with to “cash in” off of us. However, if the representation and the work that we do is truly appreciated, then this SHOULD be paid work. Oftentimes, we see a number of black atheists who come out of religion, and are looking to emulate the same style of leadership. They want to be the next atheist “Messiah”, the next spokesperson. To them, it seems that organizations like BN are so easy to get off the ground, and the teambuilding and teamwork is severely underscored and overlooked.Also, one does not need to be rich to support our organization. Even if you are of a limited means, contributing a few dollars a month or even a year helps a lot.
Certainly, we appreciate those who donate, and make up for those who don’t/can’t. But there are definitely more people who need to step up. I never write us off as being incapable of support or coming together, but more people need to understand why it is crucial to support us on a regular basis. We can truly uplift each other – especially through this religious climate.
Jacobsen: Mandisa, thank you as always.
Thomas: Thank you.
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
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.
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Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.