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Black Nonbelievers launches first billboard campaign

Black Nonbelievers, an Atlanta-based organization that supports Black atheists and those who are questioning religion, has launched a billboard campaign.
Black Nonbelievers, an Atlanta-based organization that supports Black atheists and those who are questioning religion, has launched a billboard campaign.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Two billboards in metro Atlanta may get a second glance from drivers.

Atlanta-based Black Nonbelievers, a support group for African Americans who are atheists or questioning religion, has placed two billboards encouraging people to free themselves “from religion and find true liberation.”

The billboards are located at I-75/85 northbound at exit 243, and near the corner of Peachtree and Peachtree Valley roads.

In one, a young Black woman is with the image of a cross in the background. She raises her arms and it appears she is freeing herself from shackles. The other has a similar image featuring a young man.

“In this environment of Black Lives Matter and as we talk about dismantling white supremacy and institutional oppression, we contend that religion is one area we should be looking at as well. It has been a direct contributor to that oppressive system,” said Mandisa L. Thomas, founder and president of the organization.

The billboards are co-sponsored by the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.

The campaign, which is so far just in Atlanta, is the outgrowth of a virtual meeting called “Black Family Discussion,” which was held earlier in July.

The organization will observe its 10th anniversary in January.

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Thomas grew up in a black nationalist household.

“In this age of information,” she said in a previous interview, “a lot of traditional notions are not holding up anymore. We are beginning to see the world is not right. We’re told to just have faith or pray on it. That’s just not enough for people anymore.”

It’s especially hard for African Americans, she said.

“Religion is still so ingrained in the black identity that to openly state that one is atheist means that you’re rejecting your race and culture.”

According to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center, 79% of African Americans self-identify as Christians as do 77% of Latinos.

Indeed, the church has played a major role in black life as a center of social and family interactions as well as its place in the civil rights movement. Some of the movement’s most prominent leaders came out of the pulpit.

When enslaved Africans were brought to the West, many were Muslim or held traditional beliefs.

Thomas, though, says the number of nonbelievers is growing. She said the organization has about 5,000 followers on its social media.

According to a Pew Research Center telephone survey in 2018 and 2019, 4% of U.S. adults identify as atheists, up from 2% in 2009.

Quran Williams of Atlanta hasn’t seen the images but is glad to know they are up.

He said it supports people who are “not really vocal about who they are.”

Williams realized he was an atheist when he was 18 and was in the religious closet until he was 33.

He told his family not long ago.

“They were very, very shocked,” he said. Williams’ mother’s side is Christian. His father’s is Muslim. A grandfather was a preacher.

“They accept me for who I am,” he said.