Saved By No Hell: The College (and beyond!) Years

College was an amazing time for me.  I packed up and moved- for the first time- away from home.  We didn’t have GPS back in those days, but according to the AAA Map I didn’t have to use to find my way to campus, I was 1.3 miles from home.  If I went to the highest point of campus, I could see the steeple of the church across the street from my house.  From most of the campus I could see the “Happy Jesus” atop the church that adorned my parish.

St._Benedict_the_Moor_Church_(Pittsburgh)I reveled in being Catholic at a devoutly Catholic place.  Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit- the college game announcers tend to leave out the full title of the place- was a thrill for me.  I was elected to Student Government, I was active and served a few times as an officer of the Black Student Union, and I especially took pride in the fact that I spent much time with the Campus Ministry group.  (A few of my friends from that association are now also atheists, but I don’t “out” private citizens, so no hints here!)

I studied and played and had the typical “college experience” that led to me staying up too late philosophizing and pondering life’s questions while listening to Erykah Badu.  I joined the International Student Organization just because I had never met people from many of the countries represented at my school, and I wanted to learn more and meet more people who could tell me what things were.  Books be damned!

It was during my sophomore year that I was looking for a job.  I wandered into what I believed to be the student radio station and asked to talk with the person who could hire me.  Being a native, I sailed through the part of the “Pennsylvania Pronunciation”interview.  car-NAY-ghee and mah-NANG-a-HAY-la rolled off my Yinzer tongue just as did the weirdly named university I attended.  (doo-CAIN)  Having never taken a journalism course, two years into my Political Science and Communications studies, I screwed up and got a job at the wrong place.  There was a reason that grad student looked so… experienced!  I turned down the wrong corridor and went into the REAL radio station!  I was hired as a news assistant at 90.5 WDUQ-FM.  ($3.35/hour  I was rollin’ in it, y’all!) And I spent four years learning the ropes.

Thanks to my training at the hands of an old-school journalism instructor, I learned by doing.  I had to get out of the office and go get a story.  There weren’t no fancy “Internet” back in those days!  You had to get your hands inky reading these big grey pages called “newspapers.”  And if you wanted to talk with someone, you had to dial their number and get them on the line.  I couldn’t just send out emails and wait!  Sometimes, you had to get yourself to an office or even a house to find the person you’d speak with.  It was truly a different era!

But I learned well enough that when I heard there was an entry-level NPR gig opening up, I was able to get it.  I spent a decade at National Public Radio.  I got to meet people who I’d only ever heard their names mentioned in the credits of the shows I listened to.  I got to work with people I’d idolized from afar.  I also got to spend a lot of time learning to pitch stories and getting over the stung ego of being told, “Nah.  That’s not interesting.”  I was both an editor and a producer.  On occasion, I also got the opportunity to report.

I worked on Morning Edition. (Bob Edwards is a darling, and listening to him interview is a master class in the craft!) I spent years at Tell Me More with Michel Martin.  (A travesty that she doesn’t have that show any longer!) And I got to work on most of the other programs as well.  I’m a good producer.  However, it became apparent that producing wasn’t where my heart beat most strongly, and I went off to other things.

Namely, I started writing and speaking more extensively about the harm that can be brought by over-religion and why more must be done to bolster the wall between State and Church.  I was given the opportunity to speak at atheist events- something I rather LOVE doing- and I spent much time writing and researching a book that I am embarrassed to admit is still not written!

So, today I’m here on this blog.  And I’m delighted to be here on this blog.  And I’m going to be writing more about what’s happening in Washington and how it impacts those of us who are without belief in supernatural higher powers.  And it will be my pleasure to do as much!

A Bit About Me: The Early Years

Howdy Dear Reader!

I’m often asked to give a bio about 100 words long.  More often than that, it’s condensed to “Journalist and speaker, Jamila Bey is delivering X talk on Y date.”  And while I do enjoy trying to be witty, pithy and accurate within those constraints, I think a more proper introduction is in order for this site!

First, let’s begin with a game of “Spot the Lie!”

A) I was born a poor Black child.  

B) When I was 17, I did what people told me; did what my father said and let my mother mold me.  

C) I started from the bottom, now I’m here.  

D) A & B

E) B& C

F) None of the Above

If you guessed “A” give yourself and Mulligan and try again.  “F” is what we’re looking for!

little me (2)

I was born, raised, educated and held my first job in Pittsburgh.  I’m the child of a telephone operator and an auto worker/librarian/turned police sergeant.  The historic part of the city in which I grew up, the Hill District, is the setting for all of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, August Wilson’s plays.  Religion played a big role in my young life.  While he didn’t practice, and I certainly never learned the doctrine, my father was a Black Muslim by birth.  Having the name “Bey” in Pittsburgh meant that I was always asked if my people were from the West part of the city (they were) and if I ate pork (I didn’t) and how come I went to Catholic school if I was part of the city’s most well-known, non-Christian clan.

church (2)

My mother was a Baptist who converted to Catholicism about the time it came to enroll me in school and to get a parish discount.  I do believe her devotion, but the timing leads me to think that her god’s got wonderful timing.  Except for a 6-8th grade reprieve, ALL of my education up until my final semester in college was at the hands of Catholic schoolteachers. And true to form, they taught me how to question and dissect everything.

I actually did consider myself to be an adherent Catholic… though it never did make sense to me.  I put forth a good face.

The face started to crack in high school when my questioning Catholic doctrine and dogma and my growing understanding of my rights as a citizen were in eternal conflict.  I once spent an afternoon in detention where the vice principal, a round ball of Catholic rage, took sharpie to my backpack and demanded I help her.


I’d taken White-Out and painted a wire hanger with a circle and slash through it, and the block letters, “PRO CHOICE” on my bag.  As she scribbled and scribbled in black over that White Out, the marker just slid off, and darkened the area around my “blasphemous” artwork, serving to highlight it instead.  I got another day of detention because as we were “covering up” my bag, I was told, “You can’t come back to school with this on your bag! You can’t wear this uniform and have THAT showing!”  I smirked at her and laughed, “I guess everyone is gonna put this on their backpacks and get free “out of uniform days ” from you for now on.” uniform (2)


I spent more time in detention than in nearly every other activity except for forensics.  I loved parliamentary debate just as much as I loved being in front of a room.  Thanks to my success in the activity, I got to travel and meet lots of folks- many of whom I still count as friends today!  And while I have no recollection that we met as high schoolers, Harvard Humanist Chaplain, Greg Epstein and I were at the same National Catholic Forensic League tournament in Boca Raton, FL!

All that debating and hanging out with cool Jewish kids was having its way with me.  I refused to pick a female saint for my Catholic confirmation ceremony on principle.  I refused to talk about anything other than how amazing was Sinead O’Connor for ripping up the picture of the pope on SNL- a spectacle I actually witnessed live.  And I was really having a hard time buying that there was some benevolent and loving man in the sky who saw fit to spend plenty of time reminding me that lusting in my heart was sinful, but didn’t see fit to spare any time to stop the suffering of a girl I knew who wound up miscarrying her own father’s child.

For one not so adept at math, this Catholic stuff didn’t add up for me at all!

So, I decided to enroll in a Catholic university and go in whole hog!  Eating none of course, I’m 1/2 Muslim after all!

… To Be Continued


February, the shortest and coldest month on this part of the planet, is the time in which schoolchildren learn that Black Americans did far more than just suffer enslavement in these United States.  Children all over learn (just short weeks after MLK’s dream-filled celebrations) that George Washington Carver was a peanut genius, Rosa Parks got tired and wouldn’t give up her bus seat to a white man, and that ​Black people are all God-fearing and without the reverends and churches of the post-WWII era, the Civil Rights movement wouldn’t have been a success.
I’m skipping over my (minor) quibbles with the month for this post, as I genuinely wish to make it clear that Atheists really need to support Black History Month for the simple fact that one of our own invented it! 
Carter G. Woodson, autodidact who graduated with his Ph.D. from Harvard, was a leading thinker who came up with the idea of Negro History Month in 1926.  He hoped, (as does this writer) that the need for the commemoration would someday become obsolete.
Woodson was a staunch critic of religious institutions and wrote that they were oppressive to Blacks.  Just as he believed that the accomplishments and the global influence of Black people were unreported or at best under represented, the influence of freethinking and atheist people, particularly concerning American history, have been diminished. 
Today’s Google Doodle, which celebrates the anniversary of the birth of African-American poet, and columnist, Langston Hughes, is also a great opportunity for atheists to remind folks that Hughes was also without religion. In his 1932 poem, “Goodbye Christ” he wrote,

Listen, Christ,
You did alright in your day, I reckon—
But that day’s gone now.
They ghosted you up a swell story, too,
Called it Bible—
But it’s dead now,
The popes and the preachers’ve
Made too much money from it.

So, I’m delighted to be part of the FTB family, and I think it a happy coincidence that I’m launching in February.  I look very much forward to doing more to afflict the comfortable and making the acquaintence of the readers here.