– by Debbie Goddard, AAH Director
The last few months have been very exciting for African Americans for Humanism. We launched a new website, garnered six new local affiliate groups across the country, sponsored and promoted the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers, and put up billboards and transit shelter ads in seven cities nationwide in the largest simultaneous ad campaign ever executed by a secular organization!
We Are AAH campaign
The last announcement introduced February's We Are AAH campaign, when we put up ads in seven major cities with local AAH affiliate groups. The campaign resulted in a flurry of media attention, with articles and radio interviews on local FOX News stations, The Washington Post, USA Today, the Huffington Post, The Christian Post, World Net Daily, NPR, and other mainstream media outlets, as well as in black media including BET.com, TheGrio, and The Root. Although the actual message was welcoming and relatively innocuous, news stories often carried headlines like "Atheists Use Black History Month to Target Black Community." The publicity and the controversy brought many new—and excited!—people to our organization.
The campaign was made possible by a generous grant from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, which provides support and volunteer strategy consulting to the freethought movement. The Foundation has supported many projects in the movement that help provide opportunities for visibility, service, and humanist efforts.
New online presence
To supplement the campaign, AAH's web presence received a complete overhaul. In the next few months, we will be transferring the articles from the old website and uploading the two decades' worth of AAH Examiner back issues. AAH also has a new presence on Facebook and Twitter to help build and support our community online.
New local AAH groups
As a result of the recent media attention and the new social media presence, several individuals are now working to create AAH groups in their cities, including in Detroit (Minority Atheists of Michigan), Orlando (Black Nonbelievers of Orlando), Indianapolis (AAH–Indy), Sacramento (Sacramento AAH), Nashville, Miami, and Richmond. The addition of these groups nearly doubles the number of affiliated community groups, bringing the total to 15—and growing.
Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers
Held on the fourth Sunday of Black History Month (Feb. 26 this year), the Day of Solidarity initiative was created by AAH Advisor Donald R. Wright to support and promote community and solidarity among blacks in America who identify as non-believers, humanist, atheists, skeptics, etc. This marked the second year of observance of the annual event, which saw celebrations in dozens of cities across the U.S. Sponsors include AAH, Black Atheists of America, Black Nonbelievers Inc., Black Freethinkers, and Black Skeptics Los Angeles.
The reports from local events was overwhelmingly positive. In DC, AAH Advisor Mark Hatcher said, "It was absolutely amazing. I want to say that we had between 30 and 40 people, many I know, many that I did not…New friends and connections were made." The Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta event, which AAH Advisor and campaign spokesperson Mandisa L. Thomas described as "awesome!", drew about 40 people.
Marc Barnhill, faculty advisor for the Bronx Community College Secular Humanist Club, described the CFI–Harlem event as "wonderful. So many bright, concerned, compassionate individuals questioning and sharing and building bridges for future work. The momentum this year is truly exhilarating."
In Houston, DoS founder Donald Wright reported: "33 attended, great presentations, and a very lively discussion. The presentations were about Slavery Justified in Christianity and Slave Languages. The discussion was centered around questions that believers ask non-believers. Many stayed over an hour longer to continue the fellowship and conversations. We are looking forward to an even bigger 2013."
The Black Nonbelievers of Chicago toured the DuSable Museum, where campaign spokesperson Kimberly Veal said they "spoke and reflected about personal experiences as nonbelievers [and] also shared historical context (DuBois, Rustin, Hansberry, ML King, Randolph, etc.) and goals for the future. Interestingly, we had a bystander who stood by and listened in for about 20 minutes. We invited him into the conversation because he seemed rather enthralled with the conversation…This experience has revitalized my personal belief that we must speak up and share our experiences because we are truly not alone."
AAH represented in the broader secular movement
As diverse perspectives are being sought in secular venues, we're seeing more AAH Advisory Committee members presenting at regional and national events. In early March I joined Sikivu Hutchinson and Anthony Pinn as presenters at the CFI/Council for Secular Humanism's "Moving Secularism Forward" conference in Orlando, FL. Jamila Bey was a featured speaker at the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C., on March 24, and Bey, Hutchinson, and I are speakers at the Women in Secularism conference in D.C. May 18–20. I also had the honor of talking to the Uganda Humanist Association conference about AAH via Skype in early March.
We've also seen an increase in events at college campuses. Pinn and I participated in a symposium on race, religion, and representation at the University of Madison – Wisconsin in mid-March. In the last few months Bey has spoken about outreach to the black community at several college campuses, including at North Carolina Central University. In April, Alix Jules spoke about Diversity in the Atheist Community at the University of Wisconsin – Madison's Freethought Festival, which drew over 700 attendees.
In May, Hutchinson presented on humanism and feminism for the DePaul Alliance of Free Thinkers in Chicago, and I participated in a panel discussion on Freethought in Black History and Culture for the Bronx Community College Secular Humanist Club. AAH advisors and affiliate group leaders have also participated in dozens of blog, radio, and podcast interviews in the last few months. Go to the AAH events page for a list of past and upcoming events.
New AAH initiatives
Besides maintaining the new website and social media presence, supporting the growing network of campus and community groups, and connecting AAH speakers with events, we have two other initiatives planned for the next year.
1) Host events at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). We will send speakers like Anthony Pinn, Sikivu Hutchinson, and Mark Hatcher to 6–10 HBCUs to talk about science and faith, atheism, humanism, and the black community with the goal of using the events to launch secular campus groups at each school. (If you have contacts at relevant schools, please let us know.)
2) Organize the next national AAH conference. Plans are underway; more details will be announced soon.
Our mission is important, and there is a lot of work to do, but there is a growing network of individuals and groups committed to advancing the values of secularism and humanism. If you want to get involved with the work that AAH does, or if you would like to support our efforts, please contact us at (716) 636-7571 ext. 421 or email@example.com.