Ask Mandisa 70: Celebration and a Growth Mindset

by | August 25, 2021

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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.

Here we talk about a growth mindset, in 2020.

*This was conducted December 14, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, this is an Nth to the Nth Power interview with Mandisa Thomas. So, when are we talking about just ordinary facts of organizational life, people come and go. You run out of supplies, certain things. People need to maintain their talents and skills. Organizations go through fluctuations, in other words. So, what are some things that you’ve learned? Coming up on your tenth anniversary, what are some of the things that you’ve noticed both in the negative, in terms of upkeep of an organization, and in terms of the positive, in terms of seeing that growth trajectory, regardless?

Mandisa Thomas: Yes. So, BN is approaching 10 years as an organization. And wow – it is exhilarating, but also exhausting, because there is a lot of work that goes into running an organization that centers around practical engagement. And when dealing with a community that prides itself on being so intellectual, the organizing and support aspects tend to be overlooked, and even outright ignored. However, a really good part of being in this community, is the people. It’s has also been a great learning journey with fine tuning my people skills. I already have extensive customer service experience, and when I realized that the same principles apply, it wasn’t too hard.

Now, from a nonprofit standpoint, it was definitely a learning lesson for me. Having worked at the CDC (which is a government agency) in addition to my customer service background, I was able to parlay both of those experiences into developing the organization. The challenge after that is maintaining it, and trying to retain dedicated organizers and members. We have people who are initially excited, and are ready to jump in and get involved. But once that excitement wears off which has been the case for quite a few people, then who is left to keep it going? So it can be a challenge at times; for those of us who are bit seasoned as organizers, and who are used to dealing with both the general public and also working on the back end. It can be a challenge for us in dealing with people who don’t have that experience, as well as training them on how to work with us. But overall it really shows, as you said before in our chat; endurance, and long-term commitment.

Jacobsen: Do you think part of that is a growth mindset in the idea that who you are, and what is, are always provisional and, therefore, can be changed, improved, according to context?

Mandisa: Oh, absolutely. Because we’re in a community where change is inevitable, and should be embraced. And in order for our community to grow, we have to know how to engage with people on certain issues, and also just on a basic human level. And there should always room for us to grow as individuals with our connections, however it also teaches you how to set boundaries. You learn who is in it for good reasons and who is not. community-minded reasons. And staying strong and healthy is important for running the organization, where much of the work is on a volunteer basis. And you have to love it in order to do it. I didn’t realize how life-changing my involvement would become. However, I’ve embraced it, and I’m glad I did, because it has helped so many other people.

Jacobsen: What are some other qualities that you keep in mind of a person?

Thomas: Charisma is an important quality to me. I do think that people, especially potential organizers, should be personable in order to engage in this movement. You also have to know how to work with people, and work with them as a team. I am also a person who likes to be exact and punctual, and prefer to work with people who will meet me at least halfway. Those are also qualities/characteristics that I think make a good leader.

Also, I look for reciprocity. I like people who aren’t all about themselves, that they’re doing this work and helping people because it’s the right thing to do. Not because they’re not looking to gain anything significantly over anyone else. Their actions usually match their words, and they tend to go above and beyond as well.

Jacobsen: Mandisa, thank you so much for your time, as usual.

Mandisa: 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 AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican AtheistsAmerican Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

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Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.

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