By Jennifer Taylor
When Kimberly Veal of the Black Freethinkers Radio Show informed the listening audience of a cooperative outreach plan for Black Skeptics Group and Greater Than AIDS to participate in promoting awareness and free on-site testing during National HIV Testing Day in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, DC I was interested in participating in this important event as a representative of the freethought community in Philadelphia.
I received a call from a representative of WeDoBigThings, an organization that fosters educational endeavors in academia and community service within urban environments. He asked if I was able to come to his place and pick him up and drive him to the Liacouras Center on Temple University’s main campus in order to deliver several packages containing both male and female condoms, informational brochures and other supplies that we would need for the National HIV Testing Day event. Once he got into the car he said, “This is really a blessing. Thank god that you came out to assist.” I responded by saying that I do not believe in a god or gods. He then stated, “Well to each his own. I went on to tell him that I organize an atheist group called Black Atheists of Philadelphia and that we care about what is going on in the community. In addition, I mentioned that I was there as a representative of this group and that my intent was to focus on the greater good and service to the community and not to promote my individual world views.
During the course of the day I worked with people from both Temple University’s School of Medicine and Health Center, WeDoBigThings, Greater Than AIDS, iROC and several other volunteers. This was the first time that these organizations had worked together in order to put on an event such as this one. At least 30 volunteers assisted and passed out information to hundreds of students and passersby on the Temple University campus. I assisted with greeting everyone that came through the door of the Liacouras Center and registering people to be tested for HIV. I also helped to escort people back to private rooms in order to be tested. One young man was fearful of being “stuck” I took the time to tell him that I was the first person that was tested earlier, the finger prick was quick and reassured him that he would know the test result in about 10 minutes. I went on to reassure a few others throughout the course of the day and assure them that the testing process was very quick and easy.
In addition, during my time there a woman came up to the table to register and offered a few of us some bible tracts. I refused. When I got back to the table from escorting the woman to a testing room, one of the volunteers mentioned that he thought that my refusal was funny. I informed the volunteers at the table that I have no need for bible tracts and that I am an atheist. One of the ladies that was sitting at the table stated that I was the second atheist that she had ever met. The gentleman at the table went on to ask me if I had ever believed. I went on to explain to him that I did believe at one time; however I no longer do so. I also stated that just as there are many denominations of religions, there are atheists with different world views who have a variety of morals and values. One thing that atheists have in common is that we do not believe in a god or gods. I went on to say that there are many atheists in the community that care about social justice issues, health-related concerns and community service and I happen to be one of many non-believers that are volunteering for this very event in other states including but not limited to: LA, Chicago and DC. I thanked them and said, “I’m glad that we were able to have this dialogue; I am very happy and proud to be working with you all today and I look forward to our continued contact and getting together again for another event such as this one. Perhaps we will work together again for World AIDS Day on December 1st.”
I was happy to be a part of this event and represent Black Atheists of Philadelphia. I was elated to know that my presence was appreciated. At the end I was being thanked and embraced by many of the volunteers. They treated me with respect and we had a lot of fun together. I told the coordinator to hold on to my information and to contact me whenever they are doing other events for the community. By the end of the day, at least 70 people opted to be tested. It was great to be around so many others that are in a genuinely interested in helping the community. I thanked them heartily. It was just a great experience overall.
I hope that as time goes on more and more of us within the freethought community will become open about sharing experiences and volunteering their time and efforts and identify themselves as non-believers while they do so. Overall, I think that this is a great step towards building relationships with those who possess differing world views and working on projects that address social concerns that touch all of our lives.
Jennifer Taylor was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised within a dual-religious family (Jehovah’s Witness and Baptist); she was skeptical from a young age with an inquisitive nature. She considers herself both an Atheist as well as a Secular Humanist with a strong interest in community service, social justice and separation of church and state issues. She currently serves as the organizer for Black Atheists of Philadelphia; a group that both welcomes and encourages non-theists of diverse backgrounds to become both open and active within the Greater Philadelphia area. Black Atheists of Philadelphia is affiliated with African Americans for Humanism and the Greater Philadelphia Coalition of Reason (PhillyCor). She is also a board member of the Freethought Society and an active member of the New Jersey Humanist Network. Furthermore, she is an avid Jazz enthusiast who also organizes the Philadelphia Jazz Meetup. Jenn is presently employed within corporate America, has a background in project management and more than seventeen years of diverse management level experience.