Two weeks until 2016 Secular Social Justice Conference, featuring Atheist activists of color

SSJ conf flyer updated





Sewall Hall, Rm. 309

Houston, TX


January 30 & 31, 2016



  1. Day One: Saturday, January 30th
  • Registration & Continental breakfast—9:30-10:00
  • Welcome & Opening remarks—10:00-10:30
    • Anthony Pinn (Rice University), Sikivu Hutchinson (Black Skeptics Group)
    • Main stage Emcee: Obidike Kamau
  • Session One Panels—10:30-12:00
  • Lunch —12:00-1:15
  • Session Two Panels—1:30-3:30
  • Session Three Panel—3:30-5:30
  • Group Dinner —6:30-Until


PANEL SESSION 1: 10:30-12:00


Feminism(s) of Color and the Secular Movement

  • Deanna Adams, Musings on a Limb blog
  • Maggie Ardiente, American Humanist Association
  • Heina Dadabhoy, Freethought Blogs
  • AJ Word, Secular Sistahs

Moderator: Sikivu Hutchinson


Humanism and Hip Hop

  • Monica Miller, Lehigh University
  • Jason Jeffries, Rice University
  • Xandelyn Wright, Houston Black Non-Believers

Moderator: Anthony Pinn, Rice University


PANEL SESSION 2: 1:30-3:30


Finding Justice in an Economic System that Proclaims Financial Opportunity for All

  • James T. Jones, Prairie View University
  • Darrin Johnson, Black Skeptics Los Angeles
  • Richard Peacock, Orlando Black Non-Believers
  • Twaunette Sharp, Houston Black Non-Believers
  • Cleve Tinsley, IV, Rice University

Moderator: Donald Wright, HBN

LGBTQ Queer Atheists of Color and Social Justice

  • Diane Burkholder, Kansas City Freethinkers of Color
  • Brandon Mack, Rice University
  • Ashton Woods, Houston Black Non-Believers

Moderator: Debbie Goddard, CFI/African Americans for Humanism


PANEL SESSION 3: 3:30-5:30


What’s Race Got to Do With It? Racial Politics and Intersectionality in the Atheist Movement:

  • Frank Anderson, Black Skeptics Chicago
  • Georgina Capetillo, Secular Common Ground
  • Alix Jules, Dallas Coalition of Reason
  • Sincere Kirabo, American Atheists
  • Jimmie Luthuli, Secular Sistahs
  • Juhem Navarro-Rivera, Univ. of Connecticut
  • Vic Wang, Humanists of Houston

Moderator: Daniel Myatt, BSLA



  1. Day Two: Sunday, January 31st
  • Opening remarks & Debrief—10:00-10:30
  • Film Screening & Discussion, “Walter Walk with God”—10:30-12:30
  • Evaluations & Adjourn—12:45



Walter Walk with God, By Daniel Myatt (Los Angeles)

In this experimental feature film, recent Christian convert Walter Walk believes he’s been divinely ordained to evangelize Los Angeles’ Skid Row area, heal an ill co-worker, and convert his faith-doubting Dad. Despite the numerous obstacles he unexpectedly encounters, Walter refuses to refrain from doing what he thinks his God has told him to do.

My new Novel on Jonestown: White Nights, Black Paradise

White Nights front

In 1978, Peoples Temple, a predominantly Black multiracial church once at the forefront of progressive San Francisco politics, self-destructed in a Guyana jungle settlement named after its leader, the Reverend Jim Jones. Fatally bonded by fear of racist annihilation, the community s greatest symbol of crisis was the White Night; a rehearsal of revolutionary mass suicide that eventually led to the deaths of over 900 church members of all ages, genders and sexual orientations. White Nights, Black Paradise focuses on three fictional black women characters who were part of the Peoples Temple movement but took radically different paths to Jonestown: Hy, a drifter and a spiritual seeker, her sister Taryn, an atheist with an inside line on the church’s money trail and Ida Lassiter, an activist whose watchdog journalism exposes the rot of corruption, sexual abuse, racism and violence in the church, fueling its exodus to Guyana.

What Black Women readers are saying:

“A remarkable novel about a fascinating history…The book does justice to the survivors and victims of Jonestown by forcing the reader to recognize what mainstream discourse has gotten terribly wrong about the tragedy. I encourage anyone who cares about history and the truth to read this book as it goes beyond what existing scholarship would have you believe!” Anita Little, Religion Dispatches


White Nights, Black Paradise” renders visibility to everyday black women’s struggle with race, gender, religion, morality and poverty. The stories of Taryn and the other black members of the Peoples Temple that Hutchinson vividly brings to life makes it clear that while many blacks submitted to the ideal salvation of the racial utopia Jim Jones pushed, this submission of sorts represented black peoples’ epic struggle and fight with finding a voice and life in a racially hostile homeland. This is an important and beautifully written story that restores the humanity of the followers of Peoples Temple.” Kamela Heyward-Rotimi
“Brilliantly woven.” African Americans on the Move Book Club

No, Trump’s Racist Anti-Muslim Proposal is Very American

philadelphia daily news donald trump

By Sikivu Hutchinson

In 1963, Malcolm X declared that John F. Kennedy’s assassination was an example of “chickens coming home to roost”.  He argued that the U.S.’ climate of bigotry and state violence was to blame for his death.  Taken out of context, his comments were misconstrued by some as endorsing Kennedy’s murder.  In an interview with journalist Louis Lomax he maintained, “I meant that the death of Kennedy was the result of a long line of violent acts, the culmination of hate and suspicion and doubt in this country.”

Malcolm X’s critique resonates in an environment of in-your-face white supremacist vitriol stoked by nearly eight years of hating on Obama and social justice.  Exhibit A is Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and the nativist feeding frenzy it’s elicited in white Middle America.

Yet, one of my pet peeves is those who self-righteously claim that these fascist displays are “un-American”, when they are merely chickens coming home to roost. In his criticism of Trump’s rhetoric, President Obama claimed that this “is not who we are as Americans”.  Continuing in this vein, CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria wrote recently about being “appalled” by Trump’s bigotry as a naturalized American citizen (the essay is entitled “I am a Muslim. But Trump’s views appall me because I’m an American”).  Zakaria said he’s “proud of that identity because as an immigrant, it came to me through deep conviction and hard work, not the accident of birth.”

Zakaria’s statements are problematic on a few levels.  First, there is the specter of model minority bootstraps meritocracy implied by the characterization “hardworking immigrant”.  While some are “simply” granted the so-called rights and privileges of American citizenship due to the accident of birth, others like Zakaria, have worked damn hard to earn it.  Zakaria’s evocation of American exceptionalism discounts the realities of people of color in a nation where “hardworking” has practically become an antonym for being black.

Secondly, Zakaria laments being forced to claim his Muslim otherness despite identifying as a secular agnostic. Perhaps privileged brown folk like him can turn a blind eye to the pervasive invisibility and bigotry that non-white non-Christian Americans experience, but the majority don’t have the luxury.

After each terror attack allegedly perpetrated in the name of Islam, the U.S. launches into a predictable cycle of heightened anti-Muslim Islamophobic attacks and hate incidents.  Muslim communities become more visible to the mainstream as a reviled other, while public officials decry these explicit acts of profiling as an anomaly—not reflective of the “true” spirit of American values.

But the true spirit of American values has always been demonization of the other in the name of “democracy”.  Homilies about the U.S.’ moral uprightness and vaunted democratic freedoms are belied by the staggering reality of epic racial wealth gaps, deepening racial segregation and state violence.  Exceptionalists like Obama and Zakaria cling to the notion that the U.S. has the highest standard of living and greatest economic mobility among “developed” nations.  They peddle the illusion of American religious freedom and tolerance, despite the overwhelmingly Christian face of elected officials and the anti-Muslim, anti-secular bigotry that this dominance fuels. And they bandy the myth of civil education despite the apartheid structure of American public schools, their Eurocentric curricula, destructive zero tolerance policies and policing of children of color.

What the “I’m appalled because I’m an American” flag-wrapping posture really implies is that those others—in backward non-enlightened, non-Western societies that are supposedly so radically different from ours—don’t have the same high regard for principles of equality and justice.

Tell that to the descendants of Japanese Americans displaced from their homes, jobs and livelihoods during the World War II-era internment.  Tell that to the hundreds of activists of color discredited and slaughtered under the U.S.’ COINTELPRO regime. Tell that to black children systematically brutalized in the Obama administration’s police state schools while they pledge “one nation under God”.  Flag wrapping and patriotism in the face of fascism, overt and covert, are the last refuge of ahistorical scoundrels.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of the novel White Nights, Black Paradise on Peoples Temple and the Jonestown massacre.

The GOP’s Christian Fascist Litany of Hate

ted cruz

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Now that the GOP has declared open season on human rights its surrogates are out in full force, shoring up the Party’s ground game with the deadly zeal of an old time Christian tent revival.  After months of anti-abortion backlash from Republicans on Capitol Hill, yet another right-wing influenced anti-abortion terrorist gunned down and murdered several people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. After weeks of Fox commentators demonizing Black Lives Matter organizers, several activists were shot during a peaceful demonstration in Minneapolis.  And after a steady drumbeat of post-Paris anti-Muslim tirades from Donald Trump and his GOP clown car compatriots, members of a local mosque in Fredericksburg, Virginia were verbally attacked by residents for being part of an “evil cult”.  While the GOP vilifies the dark Other of heartland nightmare, the national security threat of armed red-blooded white American males—the NRA’s “good guys” with guns—remains unaddressed.

The GOP’s racist, sexist, xenophobic platform of religious extremism has created a climate in which the public rhetoric and apparatus of state violence are in perfect alignment.  Trump has been the Party’s most potent mouthpiece for Christian white supremacy.  His call for a national registry to track Muslims, as well as surveillance of “certain” mosques, is merely the natural progression of the nativist platform he articulated this summer.  As has been widely noted, his vociferous stance on immigration almost singlehandedly shifted the debate to a national security pissing contest over which Republican candidate is macho enough to take on the border, and now, ISIS.  In a recent CBS poll, Republican voters say that, “ISIS has become a litmus test for candidates … and immigration a deal breaker”.  The increasing “hawkishness” of the Republican electorate has ominous overtones for a renewed military push in the Middle East.

Yet, nipping at Trump’s heels is radical right attack dog Texas Senator Ted Cruz.  Due to his strong coalition building among Christian evangelicals and bully pulpit in the Senate, Cruz poses a more credible long term threat than Trump.  According to new polls, Cruz has surged to number two in Iowa.  The Paris attacks have made early voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina more receptive to his slicker brand of demagoguery.  As Trump’s loyal wingman, Cruz has reportedly been biding his time until Trump falters.  Aping Trump, Cruz’s rise would seem to validate his toxic Christian fascist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim propaganda.

Once viewed as a third rail candidate, Cruz is now a “viable” prospect to take up Trump’s mantle, enlisting his evangelist father Rafael Cruz to solidify his lead with Christian fundamentalists.  It was Cruz, after all, who tried to force a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding.  In the Senate, Cruz was one of the loudest voices demanding that Planned Parenthood should be prosecuted for its alleged mining of fetal body parts for profit.  On the campaign stump this summer, Cruz and the other GOP candidates viciously maligned Planned Parenthood and called for blood.  Nationwide, hundreds of Republican-sponsored bills that place draconian restrictions on abortion and contraception have put women’s lives and health in jeopardy.  Because of the GOP’s attacks on women’s right to abortion and contraception, Missouri only has one abortion clinic left in the entire state.

As per the claims of most violent religious extremists, “God” is on the GOP’s side.

In his bid to lock up the white evangelical vote, Cruz has announced plans to organize a “national prayer team”. According to Cruz, this group would “establish a direct line of communication between our campaign and the thousands of Americans who are lifting us up before the Lord.”  With this “direct line” of communication to Christian soldiers, Cruz is consolidating the faith-based audience for his bigotry. In the propaganda wars, the biggest national security menace is the GOP and its loyal surrogates, fanning the flames of religious hate in “secular” America.

Twitter @sikivuhutch




A Black Skeptic’s Trip to the Southwest Secular Student Conference

By Darrin Johnson

My name is Darrin Johnson. I am an Atheist. I am also African-American. Over the last four years, I have made an effort to become more familiar with the various communities of non-believers. My latest attempt at this endeavor was to attend the Southwest Secular Student Conference, which was held September 25th through the 27th,  2015 at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

Going into the Southwest Secular Student Conference (SWSS), I had only attended one secular-focused conference before: the Moving Social Justice conference (MSJ), which was organized primarily by a coalition of Black Secular groups from across the country. As a Black Atheist with a mind for social justice, the MSJ was exactly the kind of meeting of minds I had been looking for. And so, when I was recommended as a speaker for the SWSS by none other than prominent Social Justice activist and fellow Black Atheist-Humanist Sikivu Hutchinson, and was subsequently told by organizer Dan Pemberton that he did indeed intend to fulfill the conference’s title of being social justice focused, I jumped at the chance.

One of the aspects of the Secular community that is well-documented is the need for diversity. MSJ, being my first secular conference, definitely had this. One of the things I was looking to see at a conference that was aimed at the general Secular community was how diverse it would be in comparison. I was not expecting MSJ’s level of diversity, but I was still anxious to see how it would compare to the general lack of diversity I’ve seen in the Secular community.

Another aspect of the conference I was looking forward to seeing was how my message of support for Black Lives Matter and my talk about how secularism naturally leads to activism would be accepted. In my experience dealing with some members of non-believer groups online, a lot of my social justice advocacy and criticism of “New Atheism” and it’s being led by old, white men has been met with a lot of hostility. The mini-documentary I created, (Non-Believers of Color, which can be seen on my Youtube channel at the DarrinJohnsonNews channel), has had a lot of supportive commentary, but it has also attracted comments such as “race talk has no place in Atheism” and accusations of “race-baiting” and such. Most of those comments you won’t find in the comments section of the video, as I generally remove comments that I find pointless and not actual constructive criticism. Would I experience similar pushback at the SWSS?

The conference was three days long, but I was only able to attend for one day (the 26th). However, I spent all of that day not just doing my own obligations of giving a talk about secularism and activism, moderating a Black Lives Matter panel, and participating in a panel about grief in the secular community, but also listening to other speakers, networking, and learning about community organizing in how-to workshops.

I should take this chance to say that Dan Pemberton and his team of organizers definitely worked hard on this conference and did a great job of organizing even while experiencing multiple technical difficulties. I felt that they went out of their way to accommodate myself, the other speakers and the attendees as best as they could, and this level of management was very much appreciated. It showed that they cared. By the way, there is no disrespect intended by not naming Dan’s team members by name, but there were so many new people that I met that I’m having a hard time separating the names of the organizers and the non-organizers.

Was the conference diverse? More so than I was honestly expecting, but still overall predominately white. There was certainly diversity among the viewpoints of the attendees, as there were some people from different ethnic and racial communities as well as great representation from the LGBT community (and I very much regret not seeing any of the panels involving the LGBT community and secularism, as they happened on the days I didn’t attend). I have to give credit where it’s due, as Dan certainly made the effort to have the conference be as diverse as possible. I saw that some people he had invited to participate were not able to make it.

How was my message received? I am very happy to say that it was very well received. No one approached me with any negative comments, and in fact I experienced a lot of support from many of the attendees. It honestly helped to reinvigorate my drive for social justice, especially under the lens of secularism. I received great questions, no one tried to speak for me, there was no incident of “whitesplaining”, and I experienced none of the defensiveness that I often experience online. It was refreshing.

Best of all were the new people I met. I finally had the chance to meet Greta Christina, who I had heard a lot about and have read a lot of work from. She was great to talk to and I hope I can work with her in some capacity in the near future. I met Mashariki Lawson and Bakari Chavanu, who are part of the Black Humanists and Nonbelievers of Sacramento, a group that I didn’t know existed before I had met them. I am now looking forward to visiting them in Sacramento as well as possibly attending next year’s Secular Social Justice conference (the spiritual sequel to last year’s Moving Social Justice conference) with them. I met Roz Crosby-Hargrove, a Black Secular woman (I think she describes herself as agnostic) who is actually somewhat local to me. I could go on, but there were too many new people to mention.

I loved how I had the attention of my audience during my talk and the amount of feedback I received from it. The Black Lives Matter panel was not monolithic, as not all members of the panel agreed on the subject and the effectiveness of the movement. It made for a surprisingly back-and-forth dialogue which I was proud to have been able to moderate.

Then there was the grief panel that I was a member of. It was so deep that it had panel members and audience members in tears. It involved speaking of the taboo that is seeking therapy for emotional distress, how to deal with grief with truth rather than lying to make someone temporarily feel better, and even a panel member admitting, right there on stage, that they were living with a terminal illness. It was a very emotionally moving dialogue.

On a closing note, I also got to talk about how the passing of my mother was one of the catalysts for both my Atheism as well as my social justice activism. It was therapeutic to get to talk with an audience at length about this aspect of myself. I hope to get to do so more in the future.

I definitely hope to attend if this conference is held next year, even though I’m sorry to hear that Dan Pemberton is no longer involved with the organizing aspect of the Secular Student Alliance. I wish him nothing but good experiences in his future endeavors.

Next will be January’s Secular Social Justice Conference. Until then, there is always more social justice to be involved with. Onward and upward!




Atheist Characters and the Novel: White Nights, Black Paradise

By Sikivu Hutchinson

In mid-November, my new novel, White Nights, Black Paradise, on Peoples Temple and Jonestown will drop.  So who are the players in the book ?

If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember the horror of seeing pictures of the 900-plus dead bodies of Peoples Temple church members, the majority of them African American, in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978. You may also know that the Jonestown massacre was where the overused misnomer “drink the Kool-aid” originated. Less known and understood are the actual people of Peoples Temple church; their hopes, dreams, world views, and motivations for going to Jonestown. As the largest religious murder-suicide in American history, Jonestown still elicits a resounding “why”?

The characters in my novel are a cross-section—they’re queer, lesbian, bisexual, trans, straight, African American, Latino, multiracial, white, age/class diverse and all over the map in terms of religious belief. African American sisters Taryn and Hy Strayer anchor the story with their at times turbulent relationship. The book opens with the sisters’ transition to segregated San Francisco from the Midwest. As an atheist lesbian and straight agnostic, they’re attracted to Peoples Temple’s anti-racist ethos, secularism and seeming tolerance. Their diversity reflects the distinctive tenor of the church and forms the backbone of the novel’s mélange of voices. Each person joined the church, stayed with it, or left, for complex reasons that often reflected deep ambivalence and contradiction. For Black members, emigration to Jonestown embodied just another leg of the African Diaspora. Far from being brainwashed dupes, many of the members actively collaborated in the dream—and nightmare—of Jonestown.

The atheist—Taryn Strayer: “In third grade she learned the unreliability of the Lord. She called on him to annihilate the cackling, drooling pinheads who wanted to see her fuck up. What was the Lord God Almighty good for if he couldn’t pull off a small favor after a week’s worth of goodness from her?”

The seeker—Hy Strayer: “The people that are over there building Jonestown say you chop a tree down and it’s got milk and honey for sap. Prime minister, the cabinet, everybody over there in power’s black except for a few Indians who’re taking orders from us.”

The loyalist—Jess McPherson: “That girl’s mother gave up that right when she let her become a drug addict and run the streets all hours. No daddy. Thirteen and running the streets. Think that’s acceptable? That’s the case with most of these parentless kids before they came to Jonestown. If they weren’t here their asses would be dumped or left for dead in juvenile hall. This is the last hope for them to get their lives together.”

Jonestown Children

The journalist—Ida Lassiter: “Everywhere, the air changed with the faintest whiff, the hint, of a white woman. When it was crowded to overflowing Goldilocks couldn’t even dip a toe onto a train car north of the Mason-Dixon without a regiment of crackers overseeing every move, making sure no Negro man woman or child twitched, sneezed or batted an eye in her direction. Under the law Negresses could never be raped. And this kept white women safe in their kingdoms.”

The defector—Foster Sutcliffe: “There’s a succession plan. The whites get positioned over us plantation style, load up their offshore accounts and live off the interest until Fidel smuggles them into Cuba or Brezhnev gives Jim Jones the key to Ukraine.”

The doctor-publisher—Hampton Goodwin: “I can still hear the laughter of that first cracker who doubted I would make it through medical school. An Irishman. Naturalized citizen with god given rights as soon as he stepped foot here. Master of the split infinitive, could barely speak English but he knew he wasn’t a nigger and that’s all that mattered.”

The teacher-interrogator—Ernestine Markham: “The church is the people, not any one man. God gave me a purpose with this church. Gossip and innuendo, especially on the Temple, are going to be big hits when all people know about is black people and black organizations being in disarray.”

The white preacher—Jim Jones: “We see white people living up in the hills with serious capital and riches, and black people living in the ghettoes with barely a collective pot to piss in. The fascists want to tell ya’ll that you’re lazy but they’re in collusion with the Judeo Christian ‘God’.”

Marceline (Mabelean) Jones

Marceline (Mabelean) Jones

The enabler—Mother Mabelean Jones: “I’ve turned the other cheek like the righteous leaders, Gandhi, Reverend King, Martin Luther. Even when I saw our people bruised and beaten, witnessed hordes of disgraced members chewed up and spit out like rotten meat, a corner of me protested but said Yes.”

The writer-survivor—Devera Medeiros: “By the time the assassins were through they’d blasted out the roof of the plane. Devera could stand up and touch the clouds from her seat. She could see clear out over the trees, past the bowing rainforest, past the valley of the shadow of death to her people, eating each other alive in Memorex.”

Secular Social Justice Conference 2016

Check out our Secular Social Justice Conference video

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.? 

The 2016  Secular Social Justice conference will feature an incredible array of activists, organizers and educators from the secular and social justice communities.  The conference will be held January 30th and 31st at Rice University in Houston, Texas.  SSJ focuses on the lived experiences, cultural context, shared struggle and social history of secular humanist people of color and their allies.  The event will include panels on economic justice,  feminism(s) of color, LGBTQ atheists of color, African American Humanist traditions in hip hop, racial politics and the crisis of New Atheism and much more.

The conference is sponsored by the Black Skeptics Group, Houston Black Non-Believers, the American Humanist Association, CFI/African Americans for Humanism, The Humanists of Houston and AAA.

Confirmed speakers include:

Tickets and information are available at Eventbrite

Because Planned Parenthood & Abortion Saved My Life #StandWithPP

Pink Out

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Today Planned Parenthood goes to the Capitol to fight back against the GOP’s Christian fascist medieval misogynist witch hunt.  Fortunately, the threatened GOP shutdown will in all likelihood be averted and a new poll from the Pew Research Center indicates that most Americans reject the GOP’s theocratic crusade against PP.  We stand with Planned Parenthood as one of the last accessible, dependable providers of reproductive health, contraception, abortion and reproductive rights community youth leadership education resources in the nation.

About that sermon on the Black Church’s hypocrisy

by D Frederick Sparks

Georgia pastor E. Dewey Smith’s sermon about the Black Church and homosexuality has gone viral.  In the sermon, Smith deems it hypocritical for Christians to condemn homosexuality based on verses in Leviticus without also adhering to the other Levitical injunctions against eating shellfish and wearing blended fabrics.  He also speaks to the large gay presence in the black church, particularly in the “music ministry”, which I wrote about a few years back here, and how it is also a manifestation of hypocrisy to use the talents of queer people while condemning them.

The pastor’s words have been lauded by many for their frankness and  for the call for greater compassion when dealing with gays in the black church. I’ve even seen it declared a great stand for “gay rights.”

For me it doesn’t go that far.  There’s a difference between calling out the black church for hypocrisy, and affirming that there is nothing inherently wrong or sinful about same-sex attraction and same sex relationships.  This “that sin is no greater than anyone else’s sin” accommodation is neither revolutionary nor novel; I’ve seen and heard it offered for years as a rationalization by black gay Christians and others who still love them in spite of their “sin”.  Personally it has allowed for me to, at my choice, maintain relationships with loved ones, despite the degree to which it requires the acceptance of what one commentator has recently dubbed “mild homophobia“.  And against the backdrop of the conservative stance of the Black Church on issues of sexuality, it certainly seems progressive by comparison, though less so than the stance of other Christian churches and denominations that are known as “reconciled ministries” which fully accept the whole experience of gay Christians.

I don’t know very much about Pastor Smith. I don’t know what his thoughts are on homosexuality beyond the hypocrisy analysis.  From what I have read about him briefly, he seems highly intelligent, and devoted to a more compassionate manifestation of religious faith; when a fellow pastor committed suicide, Pastor Smith condemned assertions that the deceased pastor earned eternal damnation through that sad act.  And to the extent that his exhortations call for and lead to less dehumanization of gays in the black church, his words deserve the credit they are receiving.  But they should be kept in context, and consideration must be given to how a particular religious experience or viewpoint either does or does not affirm the entirety of a gay Christian.

2015 First in the Family Humanist Scholarship Winners

Flyer 2015

This year, Black Skeptics Los Angeles is proud to award eight youth First in the Family Humanist scholarships. In August, four students from L.A. high schools will receive $1000 apiece through our original fund for homeless, undocumented, foster care, LGBTQ and system-involved youth.  These students are going to some of the most competitive colleges in the country in a prison pipelining climate that has become increasingly difficult for low-income youth of color.

Earlier this year, through the advocacy of secular activist and Freedom From Religion Foundation president Annie Laurie Gaylor, we also received a generous award from the FFRF to fund four more students of color–this award was designated the Catherine Fahringer Memorial scholarship–who identify as secular, atheist, agnostic or humanist, at $2500 apiece.  In addition to these other criteria, students were chosen for their leadership, involvement in their school-communities and insights into the relationship between humanism and social justice.

Congratulations scholars!

Mariana Cervantes, King Drew Medical Magnet

Mariana Cervantes, King Drew Medical Magnet

Mariana Cervantes, Cal State University Northridge (FIF LAUSD): “As an individual, I will break the barriers against Latinas in the science field but will also give back to my community by teaching children the art of foklorico with a focus on education and humanistic qualities of equality for all.”


Mercedes Hawkins

Mercedes Hawkins

Mercedes Hawkins, UC Merced (CF): “Too many religious people insist upon waiting for ‘God’ to make a change. They fail to realize that the change is in them and it is their duty to cultivate it outwardly.  Once more people embrace humanism, we will freely celebrate our differences in beliefs and promote acceptance.”


Victor Marroquin, Fairfax HS

Victor Marroquin, Fairfax HS

Victor Marroquin, UC Riverside (FIF LAUSD): “I am a Mexican-Guatemalan American, the first in my mixed status family to be born in the U.S. and a bisexual immigrant rights activist.  I have been a victim of hatred for my identity.  I live in between Koreatown and East Hollywood, communities of Los Angeles that face the most immigrant status challenges as a result of the current broken immigration system.  The LGBTQ representation is very weak in both communities. It seems so odd that these communities fall behind in embracing the LGBTQ movement because undocumented immigrants and LGBTQ people share the same obstacles.  These social movements should be more strongly intertwined.”

Zera Montemayor

Zera Montemayor

Zera Montemayor, University of North Texas (CF): “Religion is not the source for social change in the world. It is time the human race understood that words like atheist, agnostic, and humanist are not truly as negative as the connotation they carry. We are not hateful, sinners, harlots, or devil worshipers. We simply believe that each and every human is equal. Not one person deserves to be oppressed simply because they are from different walks of life.  There are so many things I would love to see before my life is over. I would love to see to gay people get married and the public not make a big commotion about it. I would love to see transgender people not be harassed or called “she-man”. I would love to see women wear whatever they please and not be marked by words like “slut” or “whore”. I would love seeing men taking ballet or a cooking class and not be marked with the misnomer “gay”. Finally, I want to be able to tell people I am an atheist without it ruining friendships. I believe humanism is the answer.”

Ramon Cortines, HS

Nyallah Noah, Ramon Cortines, HS

Nyallah Noah, University of Southern California (LAUSD FIF): It wasn’t until this past year that I realized how important feminism, civil rights and LGBT rights were to me.  Born and raised in Los Angeles, being a seventeen year-old African American lesbian has been tough to be quite honest…I do not understand why in 2015 we are still fighting for civil rights for different minority groups, I do not understand why it has taken years for same sex marriage to be a legal act; nor do I understand why every day there are black men, women and children who are being killed because apparently the color of their skin is just as deadly as a weapon.”


Adrienne Parkes

Adrienne Parkes

Adrienne Parkes, University of Pittsburgh (CF): “One of the things that caused me to shy away from religion was the lack of acceptance of those who are different.  Growing up, I felt like an oddball, one of the few biracial kids in a very white neighborhood. I had dabbled in church as a child…but I kept waiting to hear God answer me and it never happened.  This made no sense to me, so I left and never looked back.  In the years following I would learn that most churches weren’t accepting of gays and lesbians, which only affirmed my decision.  Many people are using their religion to hurt the LGBTQ community.  We see it in people like the Duggars, who are campaigning to stop trans individuals from using gender appropriate bathrooms. Or in the recent cases of businesses using “religious freedom” to justify not serving gay patrons. I believe that being a humanist, and being passionate about equal rights and fostering a positive community will create a much needed social change.”

Bryan Sierra, Carson HS

Bryan Sierra, Carson HS

Bryan Sierra, UCLA (LAUSD FIF): “During my Sophomore year of high school, I found out that I was undocumented, but didn’t know what that meant. I wanted to enroll in college classes offered at my school for free, but I needed a social security number.  I confronted my parents several times about the situation; however, I was unsuccessful in getting the nine-digit number. I continued nagging, until one day my parents sat me down and explained to me that I was not from America and that this country is not a part of who I am.  I was confused because the United States is all I had known since I was six.”  

Therrin Wilson

Therrin Wilson

Therrin Wilson, University of Tennessee (CF): “I will be the first male in my entire family to receive a college education and I am also the first to disclaim Christianity. I do not condemn religion because it has influenced people to attribute a positive impact on society hence the Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc. On the other hand, I admire humanism more because humanist act upon a worthy heart when doing positive things for the community.”