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Foundation Beyond Belief is a humanist charity that promotes secular volunteering and responsible charitable giving. Guided by the principles of secular humanism, our mission is to:

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In this blog, former HSC Ghana volunteer Christian Hayden shares his thoughts on the Year of Return.

The “Year of Return, Ghana 2019” is a major campaign inviting the worldwide African Diaspora to return to Ghana.  The year chosen commemorates 400 years since the first enslaved African arrived in Jamestown, Virginia.

A few historians have challenged the significance of this date and the meaning assigned to it with deep and well thought-out arguments. I feel their positions and feel that anyone concerned about the 400-year commemoration should read these articles and be enlightened by the context they provide. Here, I would rather talk about what we might do with this globally-assigned date for folks of various identities connected to the African Diaspora, and see if we might allow ourselves to coalesce as one species— one race— to be guided by its lessons; to work together towards a future that seeks to unravel and heal the damage and destruction bestowed on African-descended bodies, as well as the collective moral and environmental health of the civilizations of this earth.

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Mourn

We must start here, because as Mos Def said, “the length of black life is treated with short worth.” It is important to acknowledge the loss, exploitation, rape, and pillage that has come hand in hand with modernity— the innovations and wealth of many nations relied upon the acceptance of plunder as a rule, and quite possibly as a right. To pursue life, liberty, and happiness meant that weeded in transactions, labor, and capital was a foregone conclusion of the expendability of black (and indigenous) bodies. Why is this important? Because that assumption is hardwired into us and affects how we treat everyone. The success of a nation is measured by the amount it produces, but not by the health and wellness of the people it produces. 

The evidence of this is strewn across the bottom of the Atlantic in countless nameless bodies; the time-stamped images of lynched people hung from trees; the accepted shorter life span of black people; the high maternal death rate of black women in sub-Saharan Africa (and the U.S.); and the indifferent shrug given to preventable diseases like malaria, which takes the lives of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa every year.  And mourning is difficult— many of us don’t want to feel like victims and others do not want to feel complicit, but it is important to acknowledge loss in order that we may better prize life. If we ALL had to care that black men die at the hands of police officers at an alarming rate, would it continue? If we ALL had to care that trans people of color have a life expectancy of 35, would it continue?

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Celebrate

Though this essay, for the sake of organization, is presented in three parts, they are in fact not entirely separate. For instance, in Ghana a funeral is not solely a sad occasion where beautiful black and red garments are worn by mourners in the Ashanti tradition, but a time to celebrate life. So simultaneously, we must celebrate the resilience of those of the African Diaspora and their contributions to the world we have today. 

It is too easy to dismiss the communities and lives of black folks with a nihilism, an ungenerous attribution of pathology toward violence. If we were honest we would see remnants of a Biblical story; some of the African Diaspora wholeheartedly accept as spiritual lineage and example the story of the Isrealites. They identify with their exile from home, and continuous search for justice, an existence free from oppression. But this is not a biblical story; this is a wide, vast, never-ending narrative that deserves our awe and wonder; one which we can experience in every corner of this earth. 

In order for us as to be come a fully humane society, we must recognize the irreplaceable gifts that people of African descent have bestowed on all of us: the haunting and reverent sounds of Billie Holiday & Fela Kuti; the moral and creative compass that luminaries such as Toni Morrison, Ama Ata Aidoo, and James Baldwin have provided; the innovation and accountability of online feminist movements in Africa that have shifted and shaped society. In fact, there is too much to list here, or anywhere. It would take a lifetime of study to comprehensively appreciate all that black folk have given to our society. But this is a good a time or reason to do so with intention and reverence. And we remember that though these are individuals, all of them are contained in every black person who has walked this earth.

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Imagine

In this celebration, may we develop the open hearts and minds necessary to imagine a modern world that has confronted its legacy of exploitation and pillage, exorcised its racist demons, and learned a new way. The realization of environmental and economic justice rests on racial justice. Otherwise, what society would have the emotional capacity to extend its manifestation of love via support, investment, and inclusion to those who don’t look like them? Once it becomes untenable for some to breathe bad air— such as those segregated and marginalized from society— it becomes intolerable for everyone to breathe bad air.

The survival of our planet, the future of our children relies on our ability to move in a synchronized, adapted manner; to better distribute the resources, land, and water that will become ever more scarce to people who do not look like us. Otherwise, we will continue to be what we are: a divided world with certain societies that people die to get to— mostly people who are brown and poor. People perilously trying to escape plundered places, already vulnerable made more so by the tendency of wealthy nations to dispense a disproportionate amount of carbon with no ceiling in sight, undoubtedly increasing the factors that lead migrants to our “borders.”

A mundane, maniacal march continues if we fail to learn the lessons and tragedies of our entrance into modernity, which moves us steadily toward another genocide that has been 400 years (and counting) in the making.

Photo credits:

(This piece is a guest contribution to Foundation Belief's blog, and may not necessarily reflect the opinions of FBB, its staff, or board.)

 

By Christian Hayden, former HSC volunteer

Autumn has begun, and you're gonna "fall" for what our BBN teams have been up to!

The Atheist Community of Polk County, in Polk County, Florida held their biweekly cleanups of their adopted stretch of highway this month. At the second cleanup, the deep ditches along the roadway finally dried out and the team was able to get to a bunch of trash that was previously unreachable. They filled 26 bags and removed 2 old tires! 

Atheist Community of Polk County pose with a pile of full trash bags in front of their Adopt-A-Road sign

Humanists Doing Good in Grand Junction, Colorado assisted a senior with disabilities with significant yard cleanup. A roll-off dumpster was provided by Mesa County that made it much easier to remove the large amount of trash and overgrown vegetation from the home, helping to prevent the homeowner from being fined. A great example of a group coming together to help in the community!

Humanists Doing Good hauling barrels of trash out of a yard owned by a disabled senior citizen

The Central Florida Freethought Community in Oviedo, Florida held another Park Cleanup event in Kewannee Park this month, removing trash from the park and accompanying areas. Kewannee Park serves as a trailhead to Kewannee Trail, which runs along the north side of the park. After the scare from Hurricane Dorian, it was good for people to work on things at home.

Central Florida Freethought Community poses in front of their adopt-a-park sign

Another busy month for Central Ohio United Non-Theists (COUNT) and Humanist Community of Central Ohio (HCCO)! The teams held their 45th joint shelter event at the Community Shelter Board (CSB) facility on Van Buren Drive in Columbus, Ohio. Some volunteers served dinners while others washed dishes, mopped floors, and cleaned tables. Volunteers wore COUNT/HCCO branded t-shirts or name tags to raise awareness that they are non-theists doing service work. Once the dishes were done, the teams adjourned to the Omnipresent Atheists meetup in progress for dinner, drinks, and conversation. Later in the month, the teams jointly donated eight units of blood at the Carriage Place Red Cross Donor Center in Columbus. The next donation event is planned for the third Thursday in November. 

COUNT also volunteered at Ronald McDonald House Columbus as housewarmers, and three members volunteered as buddy riders for three hours each at a cycling event for Adaptive Sports Connection (ASC). ASC is a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, which helps Central Ohio veterans, children, and adults who need adaptive equipment or instruction to participate in various sports including skiing, kayaking, and cycling. This event was at Heritage Park in Westerville in an effort to explore offering rides in a different part of central Ohio than usual, and featured a potluck following the ride.

Freethought Dayton in Dayton, Ohio held a highway cleanup event for Ohio Department of Transportation at the I-675 & OH-48 interchanges. ODOT hasn't been picking up the bags from prior cleanups at the team’s last ramp, leaving them to get mowed over and shredded into bits. Frustrating, but the team got it done (again)!

The New Orleans Secular Humanist Association (NOSHA) collected 24 pounds of food for the  Second Harvest Food Bank. NOSHA also had a team that fundraised for and walked the annual Walk to End HIV. Eight participants raised $825 for the charity.

New Orleans Secular Humanist Association at the Walk to End HIV

Finally, the Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in Lincolnshire, IL held their annual High Holidays collection of requested supplies for A Safe Place, a battered women and children's shelter in their area. The team distributed grocery bags with attached wish lists to their members at Rosh Hashana/New Year's services and asked them to return them full on Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement nine days later. Here's what they got:

Dozens of full bags returned for the Kol Hadash High Holidays collection

Way to keep us inspired this month!

By FBB

This article is part of a series written by FBB volunteers detailing their experiences in the Humanist Service Corps. The opinions expressed in this article may not necessarily express those of Foundation Beyond Belief as a whole, its staff, or donors.

Elroy Leday is a Humanist Service Corps volunteer who has traveled to Ghana for the first time as part of a year-long service commitment in the town of Cape Coast. This is his second entry in this blog series. (Click here for his first installment.)

October 2019.

Hi everyone, Elroy here. I wanted to give you all an update on my most recent month. It was very action-packed. It started with a festival called Orange Friday, which itself is a part of Fetu Afahye, but more on that later. Orange Friday is a festival where the entire town wears orange. There is music played throughout the town and everyone dances as they march through town. It is a high-energy, all-day event, and is particular to the town of Cape Coast. For the weekend celebrations, there are numerous pop-up bars and restaurants to accommodate. In addition to immersing ourselves in local culture, we also discovered non-governmental organizations doing great work in Ghana.

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As I said earlier, Orange Friday is a part of Fetu Afahye, which is a festival the following Saturday. Fetu Afahye is a festive celebration of a time when there was an epidemic that killed a lot of people, and the people prayed for salvation from the disease. The festival is also part of a purifying ritual to clean the town. It is accompanied with the carrying of the chiefs.

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Meanwhile at our partner organization SAPID (Services and Advocacy for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities), we started making really good progress on getting admin access of SAPID's Facebook page back into their hands after a hacker gained access a few years ago. It turned out to be a far harder problem that a simple account recovery option. I was, however, able to fix many of their computers, which I enjoyed, although it brought about a certain difficulty I didn't expect getting cyber-tools without internet.

Speaking of things I enjoy: for the second time, I was able to participate in P.E. with the kids and play soccer/football. As I have been steadily trying to improve my physical health while I am here, this helped to gauge how far I had come since last month in a fun and interactive way. However, not everything went so easily. I especially had difficulty coming up with fun songs for the children, as well as helping them come up with slogans for fliers and stickers. We still have more work in progress building a website and finding grant opportunities for our partners.

This month, instead of our regular beach cleanup we joined another organization's efforts to clean the beaches. That organization is called Global Mamas, and I hear they are all over the... globe. They are an international nonprofit organization that creates livelihoods for women. There was an amazing turnout! Chiemi and I did socializing as well as networking as we cleaned up. There, we also met another group similar to SAPID called ACA, or Autism Compassion Africa. More on them next month.

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Back home in the village where we live, Wiomoah, we have started a vocational project for girls. It required many meetings with the chief and elders. We initially came up with a few ideas that we could do and the elders got together to discuss them and choose this project. Although because of the language barrier the talk was hard to follow, it was an interesting discussion. I met up with the elders again last week to get permission to plant some trees, and one elder told me that he is very excited for this program specifically because it helps young ladies find livelihoods. He told me about a young girl he came across recently who he found crying, because she felt she had no prospects for a livelihood. That was a heart-wrenching scenario and he was grateful to be able to tell her there is hope. I am really happy that our vocational project is happening in the village in which we live.

Recently, my close friend John invited me to his grandmother's funeral. The funeral lasted for at least three days and we had to travel back to John's maternal home town. Fun fact: in John's tribe, a person’s hometown isn't where they were born, nor even where they were raised; it is where their mother came from. So you can have a hometown that you have never visited before. The funeral is more a celebration of life than a somber reflection of death. Because of that, the village was abuzz with energetic partying and music. There were multiple funerals going on at the same time, as a rule exists restricting all funerals in the village to three one-month periods. This is in order for people traveling from afar not to need to make multiple trips. It feels weird to say I enjoyed the visit, but it wouldn't be false.

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Make sure to sign up to our newsletter to hear more about the work we are doing in Ghana.

More pictures from the Humanist Service Corps can also be found on our Instagram and Facebook pages.

By Elroy Leday, HSC Volunteer

There’s nothing quite like harnessing the power of the people for good.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been proud to be part of a movement that’s re-energizing grassroots activism aimed at protecting endangered wildlife and the most important places where they live.

The Center for Biological Diversity is often rightly noted for its legal and scientific work over the past 30 years. But at the core of the organization is an activist’s heart, a belief that saving wildlife and wild places is a long journey where success will be born of people standing up and standing together — facing down the powerful so that future generations will have a planet where the wild is still alive.

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That’s been our driving mission, especially during the Trump administration’s unprecedented attacks on wildlife. In response we’ve dramatically ramped up our work to mobilize the public — building a network of thousands of volunteers ready to answer the call.

In the summer of 2018, we helped organize people around the country after the Trump administration ended federal protection for grizzly bears that live in and around Yellowstone National Park. Trump’s move paved the way for Wyoming and Idaho to approve trophy-hunting seasons authorizing more than 20 bears to be shot and killed, including 13 females. We couldn’t let that stand. So while the Center launched a legal challenge and we put up billboards, our organizing team tapped into a coast-to-coast network of volunteers ready to take action.

Our volunteers held more than 40 “Brews for Bears” events at bars, coffee shops and breweries to learn more and write postcards to the Trump administration. It was heartwarming, topped only by a judge’s decision in September 2018 that reinstated grizzly protection and nullified any plans for trophy hunts.

But there wasn’t much time to rest. A few months later, the Trump administration announced plans to end Endangered Species Act protection for nearly every wolf in the lower 48 states. His proposal would pull the plug on 40 years of wolf recovery work and take us back to the days when these fascinating animals were persecuted to the brink of extinction.

Once again we turned to our growing network of volunteer activists in a campaign we named “Call of the Wild.” This time we took it to another level.

We held calls, empowered volunteers, conducted trainings, set up mentorship programs, rallied in wolf masks, hosted presentations, phoned governors, worked with students, made art… the list goes on and on. It was inspiring to see so many people motivated and working so hard for the cause. Yes, we steered them in the right direction and supported them along the way, but it was truly a people-powered movement that went beyond anything we could’ve done on our own.

And the results were staggering. 

Over the course of several months, more than 1,000 volunteers fanned out across the country and collected some 53,000 pro-wolf comments at farmers markets, dog parks, street fairs and other local events. By the summer of 2019, we and our other allies in the environmental movement turned in more than 1.8 million comments calling on the Trump administration to retain wolf protections. It was the largest number of comments ever submitted in the 45-year history of the Endangered Species Act.

But the other shoe dropped less than a month later, when the Trump administration rolled out a series of disastrous new rules crippling implementation of the Endangered Species Act. This time it wasn’t just wolves or bears. These rules cast a long, dark shadow over hundreds of species protected by the Act — and even those in line for protection.

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We took a deep breath and dove in once again. Our “Act for Endangered Species” campaign was up in running within a few weeks. More than 400 people — volunteers around the country — joined our first campaign call, fired up and ready to go. The next day they were flooding Congress with phone calls and then starting to recruit more people into the movement. We notched our first key victory not long afterward with a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to roll back the Trump administration’s attacks on the Endangered Species Act.

This fight to save the Act — and the wolves, bears and other species it protects — will be a long one. It may last months or even years — honestly, that’s hard to say.

But what I know for certain is that we’ve tapped into everyday people’s incredible love for the wild and for wildlife. In the long run, love is stronger than fear. And when we channel our love for the wild into activism, when we mobilize together, support each other, learn as we go and never stop fighting, we achieve something that’s priceless in times of darkness: hope.

Valerie Love is deputy director of the organizing department at the Center for Biological Diversity.

By Valerie Love, NCSE

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