Atlanta Freethought Society
4775 N. Church Lane
Smyrna GA 30080
AFS is a 501(c)(3) educational organization
Black Nonbelievers, Inc.
20 September 2013 CE NEWS RELEASE—for immediate release
An Evening with Shelley Segal
Monday, 7 October, 7 p.m.
A Special AFS/BN Program
(Atlanta) Black Nonbelievers, Inc. of Atlanta (BN) President Mandisa Thomas announced that BN and the Atlanta Freethought Society(AFS) will “join forces to present to the Atlanta area an internationally known and acclaimed performer and secular activist, Shelley Segal of Melbourne, Australia.” AFS President Rick Pace noted that Segal has gotten rave reviews “from all over, with people calling her singing and music ‘beautiful,’ ‘stunning,’ ‘inspiring’ and more. Her international activism on behalf of secularism just reinforces why we’re so proud to have her perform at AFS Hall.” A flyer for the event is attached (or can be sent) and may be used in media publications of all kinds. Both Thomas and Pace expressed great satisfaction at “the joint efforts to enrich the lives of our members and the community with events such as these.”
The program, with a $5 suggested admission donation and open to the public, is expected to draw a full house of music and freethought lovers, so everyone is encouraged to come early to be assured of a seat. The program will start at 7 p.m. at AFS Hall, 4775 N. Church Lane, Smyrna 30080(just off Atlanta Road, inside the I-285/ perimeter—exit 16). “We welcome those who are not freethinkers but who just want to see our historic building or to hear Shelley Segal. All freethinkers are of course welcome—and we hope that they will decide to join as members in due course,” said Pace.
The Atlanta Freethought Society is a member-run (all volunteer) non-profit, 501(c)(3) educational organization. The freethought hall that AFS owns and restored was a church from 1866, when it was built, until 2001. Regular AFS meetings, free and open to the public, are held on the second Sunday afternoon of every month, with a variety of other events and activities each month as well. The regular meeting usually features a speaker (often nationally known) on religion, freethought, science, history, or some combination of these. AFS has published, under the auspices of its press—Freethought Press—seven books and dozens of calendars, brochures, and flyers. AFS has often led protests against church-state violations.
Black Nonbelievers, Inc., is a non-profit fellowship of nonbelievers in the Atlanta area that is dedicated to providing an informative, caring, festive and family friendly environment. We strive to connect with other Blacks (and their allies) who are living free of religion and irrational beliefs, and might otherwise be shunned by family and friends. Instead of accepting dogma, we seek to determine truth and morality through reason and evidence.
BN welcomes all regardless of sex, sexuality, gender identity, age, national origin or race. We extend a caring embrace to all who wish to participate in exploring a meaningful rational life.
The mission of Black Nonbelievers is to…
• Provide secular fellowship.
• Nurture and support nonbelievers in coming out.
• Promote atheist pride.
• Organize nonbelievers for charitable causes.
Mandisa Thomas, BNA President, (404) 213-9655
Rick Pace, AFS President, (770) 912-6974
Steve Yothment, AFS VP for Internal Communications/Programs, (770) 722-3171
Michael Buckner, AFS VP for External Communications, (404) 245-8980
It has been two weeks since the Blackout Secular Rally took place in New York City, and there is still a buzz surrounding the event. Approx 150 were in attendance, and while some may consider that a small number, it was great to bring a number of atheists/nonbelievers of color (as well as those from supporting organizations) together in one place. The mood was festive, the feedback from attendees was great, and there is definitely interest in making this an annual project. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on that.
In the meantime, please check out two articles written by me for the American Humanist Association and Black Skeptics ( blogs, as well as a video compilation put together by the good folks at the FreethinkingIsland podcast. Also, please continue to follow updates about other events and projects from Black Nonbelievers and Black Atheists of America – and we hope that you consider contributing financially toward our efforts. We appreciate the support as we could not do this without you. For more information, our website will be listed below.
Thanks, and continue to walk by Sight – NOT Faith!
***This note was originally written and published on May 8th, 2011. In light of the pain and struggles many nonbelievers face when it comes to family members, Mother’s Day can be particularly trying for many. It is for them – as well as others who battle emotionally with this holiday (including myself) – that I am republishing this piece. It is another area where we are not alone. Happy Day to all.*** ~ Mandisa
As we arrive at yet another Mother’s Day, I have some things on my mind that I wanted to share. I know that this is one of the most popular and highly celebrated holidays of the calendar year. For many it is a joyous occasion – as it should be. A mother (motherlike guardian)’s responsibility is not easy, and it is great to have a day set aside to acknowledge our hard work and achievements. However, there are many who cannot express this sentiment about their mothers – for very good reasons – and this is what I need to speak on for a moment.
Although there are many mothers that have raised their children and gave them plenty of love and support, there are just as many women who have either abandoned their child(ren), have been and are abusive, and planted some very damaging mental seeds that has handicapped their offspring in some fashion. Whether it is a false sense of obligation, the fear of never living up to a standard, and/or unrealistic expectations from others, these factors often prohibit children from leading healthy, independent lives. Many children have been made to believe that they should still honor these women inspite of these actions, which over time can lead to resentment, anguish, and apathy. They often feel (and have been made to feel by many well meaning, yet still misguiding family members and friends) as if they are at fault for why these things occurred, and that it is their responsibility alone to overcome that pain. I have encountered many individuals that have recalled less than loving experiences with their mothers, and yet they still feel that because they were given birth to and were financially provided for that there is still a need to put this being on a pedestal – which is not deserved. Some KNOW that it is not deserved, but with the stigma of such a holiday, it is considered blasphemy to speak ill of one’s mother – no matter how awful the experience. So they are faced with either keeping the pain to themselves, or expressing very openly – often to the dismay of others that are not honest with themselves about similar backgrounds. In any case, the level of discomfort is always present and can lead to very heartbreaking results (ostracism, depression, etc). This cannot be overlooked, and it is time for us to take an honest look at what many have been apprehensive to speak about for so long.
What we as parents – and especially as mothers - must remember is that it is mandatory to provide for our children and give them the love and support they need and deserve. As I stated before, it is not easy - in fact it is often very frustrating and can cause us to make mistakes along the way. But nothing is worse than when a parent places unnecessary blame and unfair burdens on children that can scar them for the rest of their lives. And it is even worse when children think they have no recourse other than to accept what happened to them and hold these people to a place of honor where there is none. When a parent messes up, it is OUR responsibility to fix the problem – and when a child expresses that you have done something hurtful to them, LISTEN – no matter how painful it may be to do so. No one is perfect by any means, and children will respect you more in the long run when you show that you are learning with them – as well as FROM them.
So I say to all those that are celebrating Mother’s Day with genuine appreciation, I wish you and yours a very Happy Day. And to those of you that cannot, I truly understand and I hope you have a great day still. No one has the right to discount your painful experience, and if speaking out gives you closure then by all means speak out loud. You are not alone at all. As for me, this holiday is dubious at best – I cannot say that I had the worst experience with my mother, but it definitely has not been the best and I am pushing for accountability as a result. But in the meantime, I don’t let that stop me from being the best mother I can be to my children. My pain doesn’t have to be theirs too, and because I recognize that I am at peace.
Have a great day!
An Open Letter to the Secular Community
It is an amazing time to be part of the secular movement. Look at what’s happened in 2012 alone. We held the Reason Rally, the largest event our community has ever had, which brought over 20,000 atheists, humanists, and other secular people together on the National Mall. We are growing, attracting new people, and drawing more attention than ever before. A big part of that growth is thanks to our large and dynamic online community. Online secular communities have helped people encounter new ideas, deepen and broaden their thinking, and even change their minds.
A Problem with Online Communication
At the same time, the fact that so much of our community is online brings with it certain challenges. Communicating primarily online can make it difficult to recognize each other’s humanity. Online we don’t have the same vocal and physical cues to tell us what another person means by his or her comments, so it’s easier for misunderstandings to develop. The instantaneous and impersonal nature of online communication also makes it much easier for these misunderstandings to escalate, or for civil arguments to turn into bitter fights. Like many online communities, our comment and forum threads all too often become places for name calling and even threats, rather than honest dialogue based on mutual respect. Between the small but vocal number of abusive participants (often called “trolls”) who hurl threats and insults, and the overheated rhetoric of some ordinarily friendly and reasonable people, our online environment is in danger of turning toxic. Fortunately, our secular values of reason and compassion give us tools to rise above the lowest common denominator of online communication.
Our Position and Our Pledge
We, the leaders of the undersigned national secular organizations, pledge to make our best efforts toward improving the tone and substance of online discussions. The secular movement as a whole is friendly, welcoming, and committed to the use of reason and evidence as a means of resolving disagreements. We refuse to allow the deplorable conduct of a few to debase the reasonable, appropriate, and respectful conduct of the overwhelming majority of our community.
We seek to promote productive debate and discussion. We firmly believe open and candid discussion is the most reliable means of resolving differences of opinion and bringing about needed change.
Insults, slurs, expressions of hatred, and threats undermine our shared values of open and candid discussion because they move us away from an exchange of views supported with reasons.
Of course we will disagree with each other on some issues, but we can do a better job of expressing our disagreements. We can resolve to avoid mischaracterizing the positions of others, relying on rumors as the basis for our opinions, and using inappropriate tactics such as guilt by association. Instead, we can give one another the benefit of the doubt, strive to understand the whole story, and de-escalate rhetoric to foster more productive discussions. We can become better at disagreeing by treating each other like reasonable human beings.
It takes patience to educate people, but we can change how people think by having a constructive dialogue. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t bother in the first place to communicate online about important issues.
The Debate over Sexism and Feminism
Before listing some specific recommendations regarding improvement of online communications, we have observations about one particular set of interrelated issues that has engaged much of the secular community in the past year, namely sexism within the secular movement, the appropriate way to interpret feminism, and the extent to which feminism, however interpreted, should influence the conduct, policies, and goals of movement organizations. This set of issues is worthy of careful consideration, but in a few areas our positions should be very clear.
The principle that women and men should have equal rights flows from our core values as a movement. Historically, there has been a close connection between traditional religion and suppression of women, with dogma and superstition providing the rationale for depriving women of fundamental rights. In promoting science and secularism, we are at the same time seeking to secure the dignity of all individuals. We seek not only civil equality for everyone, regardless of sex, but an end to discriminatory social structures and conventions – again often the legacy of our religious heritage—that limit opportunities for both women and men.
Unfortunately, the discussion of these issues has suffered from the same problems that plague online discussion in general—although arguably to a greater extent. Some blogs and comments actually exhibit hatred, including rape threats and insults denigrating women. Hatred has no place in our movement. We unequivocally and unreservedly condemn those who resort to communicating in such a vile and despicable manner.
Here are some things that we plan to do to make our online secular community a place where we can exchange ideas and views instead of insults. We hope that others may also find this approach useful.
- Moderate blogs and forums.
Any organization or individual engaged in blogging or administering a forum has an obligation to moderate comments. Slurs, threats, and so forth beget more of the same. Keeping our online spaces free of these elements creates a civil climate that makes it much easier for people to engage issues productively.
- Go offline before going online: pick up the phone.
When you hear that an organization or member of our community is doing something that you think is wrong or bad for the community, call and talk with them, find out what they are actually doing and why they are doing it. If you don’t have a phone number, send a private email and arrange a time to talk. So much of the time there’s more to the story, and talking to another person on the other side of the issue can help us more fully understand the situation. Plus, a phone call makes it easier for people who are making mistakes to change course, because they aren’t on the defensive as they would be after being called out publicly.
- Listen more.
We miss the nuances and differences within “the other side” once an issue becomes polarized, while continuing to see our side as filled with nuance and distinctions. There is a tendency to stop listening and treat everyone associated with an opposing position as a monolithic group. People can be painted with views that aren’t their own just because they may disagree with some aspects of your own position. We should listen more so we can see distinctions among those with opposing views and start to move toward a more accurate understanding of the issues rather than being deadlocked into two entrenched camps.
- Dial down the drama.
It’s tempting to overuse inflammatory and derogatory rhetoric. It gets attention. We should be cautious about using this tactic within our community because of the long-term damage it does to relationships and morale. When critiquing people within our community, everyone should remember that our goal is to persuade our allies to see our perspective and modify their opinions. Insults don’t change opinions; they harden them.
- Be more charitable.
We should remember that the purpose of argument within our community is to come to shared and correct conclusions that move us forward, not to score points against the opposing side. To that end, we should apply the principle of charity, which tells us to aim our argument against the best interpretation of the opposing arguments rather than picking off weaker versions. By applying the principle of charity we will elevate the discussion so we’re actually talking about our real differences, not just engaging in a pointless exchange.
- Trust but verify.
Before we believe and repost something we see, we should ask ourselves about the evidence provided and the context. It’s easy for multiple people saying the same thing to look like a lot of evidence, but if their statements are all based on the same original source, they do not constitute independent verification. We should look for the original data and corroboration from independent sources before believing and spreading claims.
- Help others along.
We should remember that we weren’t born knowing the things we know now. To get to the reasoned conclusions that we’ve reached, we learned by reading, thinking, and talking with others. When we encounter someone espousing a view we think is based on lack of knowledge or experience, we should remember that we have all held ill-informed views. We should cultivate patience and try to educate instead of condemn.
By improving our online culture, we can make this movement a place that engages, fulfills, and welcomes a growing number and increasing diversity of secular people.
David Silverman, President, American Atheists
Rebecca Hale, President, American Humanist Association
Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director, American Humanist Association
Chuck VonDerAhe, President, Atheist Alliance of America
Richard Haynes, President, Atheist Nexus
Ayanna Watson, CEO, Black Atheists of America, Inc.
Mandisa L. Thomas, President, Black Nonbelievers, Inc.
Mynga Futrell, for Brights Central, at The Brights’ Net
Amanda Metskas, Executive Director, Camp Quest
Ronald Lindsay, President and CEO, Center for Inquiry
Tom Flynn, Executive Director, The Council for Secular Humanism
Jan Meshon, President, FreeThoughtAction
Joseph McDaniel Stewart, Vice President, FreeThoughtAction
Margaret Downey, Founder and President, Freethought Society
D.J. Grothe, President, James Randi Educational Foundation
Stuart Jordan, President, Institute for Science and Human Values
Jason Torpy, President, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers
R. Elisabeth Cornwell, Executive Director, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
Edwina Rogers, Executive Director, Secular Coalition for America
August E. Brunsman IV, Executive Director, Secular Student Alliance
Todd Stiefel, President, Stiefel Freethought Foundation
Fred Edwords, National Director, United Coalition of Reason
I am pleased to announce that the Georgia Department of Transportation has officially erected the Adopt a Highway signs for our organization. It is located at exit 231 (Mt. Zion Rd) on Interstate 75 Southbound – which is a very high traffic area, and located in the Southlake shopping area of Morrow, GA We were approved last year; however political issues (not pertaining to us) caused a serious delay. Now that this is complete, we will begin our cleanup schedule of the designated mile stretch. Volunteers will be needed; for each cleanup, snacks and beverages will be provided.
If you would like to contribute, please contact us, or visit the Donate section of our website. Thank you for your continued support of BN!!!
Mandisa L. Thomas
As I sit and wait for my youngest two children to go to bed so the rest of their presents can be wrapped for Christmas, thoughts about the holidays have been weighing on my mind. Not in a bad way, because this is my favorite time of year. And this is primarily due to the fact that I decided to celebrate them on my terms – which I will expound upon.
This year, I am at home with my family – which consists of my husband Craig and our three children. There are no extended relatives – no mothers, fathers, siblings, aunts, uncles or cousins in our presence. There will be most likely no friends that come to visit us at home, and more than likely, we will not be going out either. It will just be the five of us as the kids open their presents, and enjoy food. This is just fine with me.
There are a lot of perceptions about the holiday season, and it means different things to different people. For some, it is a fun time to gather with extended family, eat, and exchange presents or other rituals that are considered tradition. For others, it is tough because the gatherings with family and or friends seem to be more of an obligation than a celebration. They may be coerced into participating and interacting out of a sense of guilt and appeasing the desires of relatives, most likely a parent. And yet for others, it is a time of melancholy and loneliness (ie, the “Holiday Blues”) due to the loss of loved ones – either through death or distance – as well as other factors, including financial hardship or the personal decision to stop celebrating holidays altogether.
Since moving to the Atlanta area 15 years ago, I can count on one hand how many times we’ve had family visit us for the holidays. Mind you, I have only been out as an atheist since 2010, so this isn’t a factor in this delinquency. Most times, we are asked if WE will come up to New York to visit THEM – which we have done a few times since the move. I do take some responsibility in not going to see some relatives that have moved out of state, and there have been other occasions where family has visited at times other than the holidays (it’s been a while though). But to be honest, I have grown weary of the request for us to do the traveling back home – especially now that own my family has grown. And as I continue in my personal development and become more acquainted with individuals that are of a similar mindset, it has become very difficult for me to accept the ways of those who refuse to change, as well as expect others to conform to their stagnated thought process.
As much as there is joy in holiday gatherings, it can also be a time when unresolved issues come to light. And instead of finding ways to overcome these problems, many family units tend to let them fester into a revolving cycle of drama and dysfunction. I contend that no one should be forced, coerced, or even cajoled into any situation that will make them uncomfortable, or even cause downright unhappiness. I say this not to encourage total separation of the family unit. But it is best for people to be honest with themselves about their mental and emotional welfare during these times, and make the best choice – even if it is difficult.
I am finding that the older I get, the less appealing the idea of celebrating the holidays in a traditional manner become. For example, I am contemplating a group trip to the Smoky Mountains with some close family and friends, and celebrating Thanksgiving next year. Traveling to the Caribbean or another tropical destination for Christmas sounds great now. Even sending the kids to New York to be with their grandparents while I do nothing would be awesome! A few years ago, I thought those ideas were ridiculous – not so much anymore. They certainly aren’t new; it’s just a matter taking the time to actually DO them – despite what others may think.
In conclusion, although I wish I could enjoy the company of extended family more, there’s certainly no case of the holiday blues over here. Being alone or around very few people at times does not always equal being lonely. The most important aspect of my life is to be happy – which means periodically re-evaluating, and revising my thoughts and actions. This process is not influenced by the wishes of others, (although I do take advice into consideration) and I try my best not to impose my will in return. Because again, we must ultimately decide what is best for us, and make the most out of our own lives.
Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!!!