Secular Social Justice – Kenyan Humanist Conference

kenya

This special report by Kenyan Humanist Association chair Moses Alusala summarizes the Third Annual IHEYO regional working group.  All of the presenters at the conference were male. According to Moses “one woman presenter invited cited domestic responsibility and instead sent a male representative”, underscoring the difficulties African women in the continent’s humanist movement face.

By Moses Alusala

The group meeting was  convened by the Kenyan Humanist Association and brought together East African humanist youth from diverse backgrounds and regions, from suburbs and townships, as well as those from economically advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds, who have been witnesses to the reality of marginalization, poverty and oppression. There were 22 attendees in total. The countries represented were Sudan, Burundi, Uganda and Kenya. They came to learn and share how they could combine activist engagement with democratic concerns for social justice and equality; how they can achieve through rationality a society no longer exploited by the power elites of church, state and business.

The opening plenary commenced with an encouraging welcome address from Moses Alusala, Chair, Kenyan Humanist Association. He highlighted the fact that poverty and social justice are the most immediate and central areas of common concern in Africa as stated in the global consensus that underlies the 2000 Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals. “The Sub-Saharan African region has the second worst gender-related development indicators after South East Asia according to the Human Development Report for 2012/2013″.  He proceeded by stressing the need to focus on poor people, patterns of exclusion and the disappointment of unfulfilled human potential.  “Women continue to be oppressed by African tradition, religious fundamentalism, colonial patriarchy and global capitalism. As helpful as the faith based interventions and strategies are, they stop short of engaging with the root cause of conservative, gender-biased religion.”  He further emphasized the importance of empowering young people to take action to create a more just world stating that they are a powerful force that can be harnessed for civic engagement.

George Ongere of Centre for Inquiry Kenya gave a talk on humanism and altruism in which he affirmed that civic engagement and community service are the most appropriate forms of altruism and that the humanist community should be as civically engaged as their religious counterparts, if not more. He emphasized the need for greater visibility of organized humanist service groups and that the IHEYO meeting should herald the beginning of that shift.

Lukyamuzi Joseph of HALEA Uganda, gave a talk on critical thinking as one of the crucial skills needed in social justice activism. He stressed that the youth needed to address social and political issues with the tools of critical thinking. Mr Lukyamuzi further stated that there is need to apply skeptical principles to every facet of life and society. “While we may not be able to make the same value judgments and have the same opinions, the end goal of skeptical movements should be that no matter the circumstance, facts and evidence should be critically examined,” he added.

The delegates expressed concern over the harm caused on women and children by the ongoing civil war in South Sudan. James Luyobya (Humanist and Ethical union of South Sudan), stated that religious differences are one of the main causes of the wars in South Sudan. He explained how religious institutions in South Sudan have often failed to act in accordance with their vision. Inter-faith violence, ‘communalism’, aggressive proselytizing and unpalatable maneuvering for power or money has been real obstacles to social and economic well-being in South Sudan. He recounted how the impact of war, intensified by desertification, drought and famine has taken their toll on women and children. How they suffer from frequent incidences of kidnapping and assault from soldiers and flee the war with no assets or skills and survive through domestic work, begging, petty trading, beer brewing and prostitution.

The delegates later raised concern over the conventional approach to peacemaking in most of the countries torn by internal conflict and violence in Africa where powerful countries establish a cease-fire between warring parties, followed by imposition of the dominant model of markets and electoral politics. This “neoliberal” approach, they alleged, is designed to put in place the institutional forms of a peaceful society without seriously considering questions of social justice.

Boaz Adhengo gave a power point presentation on the Future of Humanism in Africa and stressed the need of regional partnership and collaboration of humanist groups to achieve synergy.

Ayella Collins of Humanist Empowerment of Livelihoods in Uganda gave a talk on challenges of humanism in Africa which as he stated, includes lack of enough funds, religious fundamentalism and illiteracy. The conference made a firm commitment to deal with the challenges.

Blaise Ntakaritumana of Burundi Humanist Charity gave a talk on how intersecting identity markers such as race, gender, ethnicity, disability, religiosity and nationality play in shaping the experiences of ‘non-normative’ sexual and gender diversities in Burundi. He explained how a specifically literalist interpretation of Christianity and Islam, as promoted by fundamentalist groups from outside Africa, are the cause of the recent wave of homophobia in the country.

Moses Alusala gave training on Social Justice Advocacy and stressed the need to nurture social justice skills such as critical thinking, cooperation and conflict resolution, challenging injustice & inequity and participation.

Kato Mukasa gave a talk on the meaning of humanism and its origin in the Renaissance while emphasizing that Africa has always had a humanism that predates any codification of the ideology. He later trained the youth on fundraising and resource mobilisation skills as well as capacity building.

The conference noted that the the widespread witchcraft allegations in Eastern Africa was as a result of the combined effects of age and sex discrimination on older women as well as religious induced superstitions. They proposed plans for youth to support campaigns to stop violence against women, promote critical thinking and ensure gender equality within the secular movement. It was noted that violence against women was undermining efforts to achieve the millennium development goals in Africa.

The delegates later decried the apparently unstoppable Islamist militancy in the region as a result of jihadist indoctrination of youth and proposed de-radicalisation countermeasures through critical thinking and economic empowerment.

The forming of a regional network was one of the Agenda items. The participants suggested a network (East African Humanist Network) that would amplify the social justice worldview, platform and community context. The participants suggested a magazine for the network which would act as a platform for secular social justice in East Africa, providing cutting-edge commentary on current affairs, development, human rights, and culture in the region. The magazine, to be named Active Humanist would act as a forum for people to articulate their dreams and share information, facilitating the building of a movement for civic engagement. Boaz Adhengo of Jahwar Amber Humanist Trust Fund was appointed as editor for the magazine, while Lukyamuzi Joseph, Debra O. Ouko and Boaz Adhengo were to act as the advisory council for the network. The delegates resolved that the IHEU country representatives for each respective country would also serve as the country coordinators for the network.

The conference emphasized the need to strengthen the capacity of humanist youth organizations in Africa to promote social justice by providing information, stimulating debate and supporting advocacy.

After ample deliberation, the conference elected Mr. Moses Alusala as the Kenya country coordinator for IHEYO, taking over from George Ongere of CFI/Kenya. They also resolved that the 2015 conference would be held in Rwanda.

In conclusion the delegates resolved that religious concepts are inadequate or false relative to the values of rescuing them from systemic injustices destroying so many millions of human lives in the Eastern African region and that there was need to form a network to amplify the social justice worldview, platform and community context of radical and progressive East African humanists.

The participants later expressed their thanks to the Kenyan Humanist Association for their smooth organisation of the conference, and IHEYO and HIVOS for sponsoring the event. In the same vein, they pointed out that the conference attained its sought objectives while signalling their efforts to follow through with their advocacy action items.

 

 

Busting the School-to-Prison Pipeline

YMS school-to-prison forum Brandon flyer-page-0
FACT: The school-to-prison pipeline disproportionately locks up African American and Latino youth, leaving many with criminal records and no possibility of “re-entry” to employment, housing or higher education
FACT: Foster care and homeless youth of color have some of the lowest rates of college transfer and graduation amongst college youth populations
FACT: Black girls are disciplined in greater numbers than Asian, Latino and White boys.  Black girls are suspended/expelled six times more than white girls; while black boys are supended/expelled three times more than white boys.
FACT: LGBTQ youth of color have disproportionately high suspension/expulsion and push-out rates in U.S. public schools

#CollegeNotPrisons: Support the 2015 First in the Family Humanist Scholarship

In 2013, Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA), spearheaded the First in the Family Humanist Scholarship initiative, which provides scholarships to undocumented, foster care, homeless and LGBTQ youth who will be the first in their families to go to college. Nationally these young people are at greatest risk for being pushed out of school due to discriminatory discipline policies and criminalizing police practices (foster care youth of color have some of the highest juvenile incarceration rates among all youth groups). For example, in big city school systems like the Los Angeles Unified School District, spending for school police and paramilitary weapons far outstrips spending for restorative justice initiatives which have been proven to keep students in school.  And in many South Los Angeles schools fewer than 20% of high school seniors go on to four year colleges and universities.

Responding directly to the school-to-prison pipeline crisis, BSLA is the first atheist organization to specifically address college pipelining for youth of color with an explicitly anti-racist multicultural emphasis.  Listen to our 2013 & 2014 scholars talk about how FIFHS helped them in their freshman and sophomore years and please share this post with the secular community.  Indiegogo link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/first-in-the-family-humanist-scholarship-fund–2/x/2451283

Environmental racial disparity and Keystone

by Frederick Sparks

My hometown of Port Arthur, Texas may be considered “famous” for a few things: natives Janis Joplin and former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson, rappers Pimp C and UGK, who collaborated with Jay Z (“big pimpin down in P-A-T”), and for its past as a central point of vice and corruption in Texas; in the late 1950s a special state legislative committee convened to investigate the complicity of law enforcement with open and notorious illegal gambling and prostitution (the actor Steve McQueen once worked as a bouncer at one of Port Arthur’s bawdy houses).

But Port Arthur’s most notorious legacy may be related to its status as home to one of the largest oil refining capacities in the world, and the disproportionate rate of cancer and other diseases and ailments experienced by Port Arthur’s poorest black residents, who live in close proximity to Port Arthur’s refineries.  Now, Port Arthur is the terminus for the Keystone pipeline.

In a 2013 article awarded a prize for social justice journalism, writer Ted Genoways highlighted the health challenges of residents of a housing complex built in close proximity to the refineries:

“Cancer rates among African Americans in Jefferson County are roughly 15 percent higher than they are for the average Texan. Shockingly, the mortality rate from cancer is more than 40 percent higher. And cancer is only part of the story. A study by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that residents of Port Arthur were four times more likely than people just 100 miles upwind to report suffering from heart and respiratory conditions; nervous system and skin disorders; headaches and muscle aches; and ear, nose, and throat ailments.”

The article also notes that while African Americans make up only 12 percent of the Texas population, people of color make up more than 66 percent of residents near the state’s most hazardous waste sites.All of this is of course made easier by state and local officials who receive financial incentives from energy companies in exchange for lax or nonexistent enforcement of environmental regulations.  It took years for the Texas legislature to close the loophole exempting refineries and power plants built before 1971 from regulation.  And in 2001 when the EPA was poised to impose ozone limiting restrictions affecting the Beaumont/Port Arthur area, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) carried the water of the energy industry and convinced the EPA that the levels that were being measure represented pollution drift from Houston, not local refining.  Thus additional regulations were delayed until 2007.

The addition of the pipeline only adds to the risk of environmental degradation and related health consequences.  And Port Arthur is not unique in that there is nationwide pattern of the poor and people of color being far more likely to live close to environmental hazards and to bear negative consequences from that exposure.

So it is particularly disheartening to see Congressional Black Caucus members Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) and James Clyburn (Florida) cross party lines to vote in favor of the pipeline.  I suspect their votes were influenced by big money energy constituents (particularly in the case of Lee) and by the promise of “job creation”… though as it has been noted, the State Department review shows that only 35 permanent jobs would be created by the pipeline.  Thirty five.  How many cancer deaths are those jobs worth?

 

Moving Social Justice 2015

In a global climate in which the criminalization and economic disenfranchisement of people of color of all genders and sexualities has become more acute, what role can secular humanism play in communities of color in the U.S.? 

Last year’s Moving Social Justice conference featured an incredible array of activists, organizers and educators from the secular and social justice communities.  Building on that momentum , the 2015 MSJ conference will be held October 10th and 11th at Rice University in Houston, Texas. MSJ is the first annual social justice conference dedicated to addressing the lived experiences, cultural context, shared struggle and social history of secular humanist people of color and their allies.  This year’s conference will focus on topics such as economic justice, the Black Lives Matter movement, women of color beyond faith, LGBTQ atheists of color, African American Humanist traditions in hip hop, the crisis of New Atheism and much more.

Racism & Intersectionality w/Frank Anderson, Georgina Capetillo, Sergio Ortega, Donald Wright & Tony Pinn

Racism & Intersectionality w/Frank Anderson, Georgina Capetillo, Sergio Ortega, Raina Rhoades, Donald Wright & Tony Pinn

The conference is sponsored by the People of Color Beyond Faith Network, Black Skeptics Group, Houston Black Non-Believers, Black Freethinkers, the American Humanist Association and African Americans for Humanism.

Confirmed speakers include (with more to come):

For further information please contact: peopleofcolorbeyondfaith@gmail.com or blackskeptics@gmail.com

 

 

Women of Color Beyond Faith Forum

DOS 2013 pic

Women of color remain the most consistently religious group in the nation.  At the same time, the majority of women of color live in highly segregated communities that cut across class lines.  For many African American and Latino women of all backgrounds, faith and religion are intimately woven into their daily lived experiences, community contexts, social and civic ties and sense of mental health and wellness.

As part of the national Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers on Sunday, February 22nd Black Skeptics Los Angeles will host a Women of Color Beyond Faith forum at CFI L.A. at 11:30.  The forum will focus on the cultural, social, political and personal issues that inform the choices some women of color have made to question/reject organized religion.  It will also highlight the challenge and promise of forging alternative secular spaces that are culturally responsive to the needs of WOC.  Some of the questions and issues that this forum will explore are:

  • How do WOC navigate secularism/atheism/humanism in historically religious communities and families?
  • How do WOC find and create safe spaces for secular lifestyles and belief systems (given the challenges of the above)?
  • How are the experiences, world views and sociopolitical agendas of WOC secularists distinct from that of white secularists in general and white women secularists in particular?
  • How does WOC secularism/humanism/atheism relate to social justice activism or belief?
  • How are WOC secularists interrogating the “colorblind” ethos of mainstream atheism?

Moderated by Sikivu Hutchinson, the forum will feature BSLA member Toni A. Bell, Donna Perkins of the Unitarian Universalist Church, Sandra Boooker, host of the radio show American Vernacular, and Staci Goddard of the L.A. Women’s Atheist and Agnostic Group.

Dissing DuVernay and the Lessons of Selma

Ava DuVernay

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Every child in the U.S. should see Selma for at least two reasons.  First, Ava DuVernay’s powerhouse film captures the political complexities and tactical ambiguities that informed civil rights movement organizing; from the behind-the-scenes factionalism among movement organizers to the FBI’s war on activists to the media’s influence on bringing black resistance to Southern terrorism straight into white Middle America’s living rooms.  Highlighting the contributions of black women activists and other lesser known unheralded organizers, the film reminds young people that historical change does not spring from the exceptional actions of visionary individuals but from collective action.  In this regard, Selma is an important antidote to mainstream portrayals that fixate on Martin Luther King as the sole impetus for the movement.

Second, the lessons of Selma itself are relevant to DuVernay’s “omission” from the Academy Awards nomination for Best Director.  True to Frederick Douglass’ assertion that “power concedes nothing without demand” the snub of DuVernay is criminal but of course not unprecedented.  Just as sustained organized action brought down Southern apartheid so must sustained organized action be directed at Hollywood’s billion dollar White Boy’s club.  Each year, people of color flock to inane comedies and big budget action flicks in record numbers (Latinos have the highest film going rates and the lowest rates of representation in mainstream film).  In the few theater chains that deign to operate in the “ghetto” , we watch white people play out themes of heroism, romance, swashbuckling, leadership and political intrigue underwritten by multinational corporations which rarely endorse people of color portrayals that don’t hinge on minstrelsy.  Given this, why would the Academy, helmed by a cabal of older white men like the Tea Party, give a brilliant fierce black woman like DuVernay its imprimatur for disrupting one of white supremacy’s most sacred preserves?  Shaming white Hollywood into [Read more…]

A Tale of Two Massacres: The West & the Rest

boko haram hypocrisy

While the world universally condemned the slaughter of French journalists and citizens by Islamist terrorists last week, there has been relative silence on the recent massacre of thousands in northern Nigeria by the Islamist group Boko Haram — proving that white European lives matter more (once again).

From the Montreal Gazette:

 

Leaders of about 50 nations linked arms during a march in Paris, demonstrating a common front.

But during these symbolically important mass rallies, barely a peep was uttered to condemn another atrocity committed last week, also by Islamist terrorists. While all eyes were glued to the carnage in France, Boko Haram slaughtered 2,000 people in a village in northern Nigeria. Women, children and the elderly were slain in the streets, while other residents of Baga drowned trying to swim to a nearby island. In a testament to their ruthlessness, the group murdered dozens more countrymen in subsequent days by sending suicide bombers — girls ages 15 and 10 — into crowded marketplaces in separate incidents.

The bloodbath in Baga resulted in a strategic victory for the Islamists; when the dysfunctional Nigerian army fled the village, it essentially ceded control of Borno state to Boko Haram.

ICOAST-FRANCE-ATTACKS-CHARLIE-HEBDO-DEMO

Goodluck Jonathan, the president of Nigeria, has been criticized for his inept response to Boko Haram’s advance. His inability to take effective action can in part be explained by the rampant corruption in the government and the army. As well, with an election on the horizon, he seems to be simply trying to change the channel. But it is astounding that Jonathan managed to take time away from his daughter’s wedding over the weekend to lament the attacks in France, yet failed to acknowledge the massacre in his own country…

http://montrealgazette.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-boko-harams-atrocities-continue

 

Framing Black Queer Resistance: An Interview with Black Lives Matter L.A. Activist Povi-Tamu Bryant

Povi

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Last week, activists from the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles (BLMLA) coalition spearheaded the Occupy LAPD encampment, demanding a meeting with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck as well as the firing and prosecution of the officers who murdered Ezell Ford. The issue of black self-determination—queer, trans, disabled, undocumented—is at the forefront of this thriving mass movement, which not only challenges white supremacy but challenges the orthodoxies of mainstream patriarchal hetero-normative civil rights organizing. On Tuesday I spoke to BLMLA activist Povi-Tamu Bryant, who was waiting to address the LAPD Commission after the dismantling of Occupy LAPD’s encampment and the arrest of fellow BLMLA organizers Sha Dixon and Dr. Melina Abdullah. Dixon, Abdullah and Bryant, along with fierce black women BLM founders Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, have brought an intersectional lens to the movement in an era where black youth of all genders and sexual orientations don’t see the complexity of their communities represented in hyper-segregated classrooms with apartheid curricula. Bryant’s comments on Ethnic Studies and the need for culturally responsive education were especially relevant in light of the recent implementation of a new California law banning suspensions for willful defiance in grades K-3. Willful defiance has long been used to target and criminalize “unruly” black children as early as preschool. For children of color, criminalization at the preschool level is often the first phase in a path that leads to pushout in later grades and incarceration in adulthood. It is also one of the most devastating tools in the destruction of culturally responsive education. This partial victory is important in context of the growing leadership of community organizers who have waged daily resistance to police and state violence which has resulted in the stolen lives of black youth like Ford, Aiyanna Jones, Tamir Rice and Rekia Boyd.
SH: Historically when we look at civil resistance to state violence there has been a lot of focus on black male leadership and black male victims, often to the exclusion of black women who’ve been murdered, as well as of black women activists who have been on the frontlines of movement organizing. What motivated you to become involved with Black Lives Matter L.A.?
Bryant: I was motivated to become involved last year after the acquittal of George Zimmerman. I realized in that moment again just how little black lives are valued, and it made me feel like it was important to be around black folks, to share my rage and grief with black folks and to be showing up for myself, my community and my family. BLMLA has a particular frame around the value of all black lives mattering; showing that black trans lives matter, black women’s lives matter, black disabled lives matter and black immigrant lives matter. Having that frame allowed me to show up as myself—as a black queer gender-bending woman—and it has allowed me to really be involved with lifting up the disparities that black communities face. [Read more…]

Teaching Against Terrorism

BWW presentation class

Ferguson discussion

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Now that the grand jury in Staten Island has desecrated Eric Garner’s dying breath and re-confirmed fascism in the U.S. what Black person has confidence in the justice system? What descendent of slaves has “faith” that speechifying, praying, and pleading for the system to recognize Black life will have any demonstrable impact on the United Terrorists of America? Who believes that the rule of law means anything other than a jack boot and a lynch rope around the neck of African-descent people who built this country brick by brick?

As progressive educators many of us enter the classroom every day with fierce expectations of change and redress. Working against textbooks that obliterate poor and working class people of color, we teach our students about social history to enlighten, inspire, transform and enable them to think critically about the similarities and differences between past and present. Even among those of us who push back against grand narratives that pimp the obscenity of Western exceptionalism there is an implicit assumption about progress; a secular faith in “advancement” despite the face of insidious institutional racism.

Today, we go into the classroom with that secular faith blown to bits yet again. Today, some of us will tell our students that the Garner decision makes it important to amplify that people of color have always fought terrorism on this soil. Some of us will say that the U.S. has a history of using the Orwellian language of freedom and justice to vilify the non-Western other while waging terrorist war against its own. During World War II black activists fought the hypocrisy of the U.S.’ campaign against fascism in Europe. These interventions were the legacy of 18th century revolutionary war era protests and legal resistance that free and enslaved Africans mounted against the tyranny of “democratic” empire. Social justice pedagogy is designed to empower young people to critique, question and ultimately organize against these contradictions. When we teach we try and lift up these brutal contradictions and show how they inform the present. In an age of wall-to-wall corporate media it’s one of the last bastions of decolonization for youth of color who are told that race is no barrier but see white supremacy at work every day. But in the cold light of unrelenting state criminality and savage indifference to black life it’s difficult to remain hopeful.

Discussing racism and discrimination with South Los Angeles students in a new multiracial leadership group before the Ferguson decision, some were initially hesitant to unpack their experiences. Yet in the same school students reported that some teachers divide their classrooms by seating “smart” Latino students on one side and “underachieving” African American students on the other. In the same school black boys are led away in handcuffs by school police every week. In the same school “out of control” students of all genders are physically restrained. In the same school, and in schools just like it across the district, black students are grossly under-represented in Advanced Placement and Honors classes but pack special education classes and detention halls. Unlike the murder of Eric Garner, these are the routine, everyday acts of state violence that are never captured on videotape but also signal that breathing while black remains a punishable, lethal offense. Our challenge as activist teachers and mentors is to keep pushing students to see that the system doesn’t want them to see these terrorist violations as the same.