The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put up a billboard outside the University of Tennessee in Knoxville featuring Therrin Wilson, an African American student at the school:
The billboard reads: “I’m as proud to be an atheist as I am to be an African American.”
“I was raised as a Baptist Christian, but I put God to the test with my scientific thinking — and he didn’t survive,” says Wilson, a University of Tennessee, Knoxville student.
“I’ve had to overcome friends, family, and relationships all shutting me out, but overcoming that adversity is what made me as proud to be an atheist as I am to be an African-American,” added Wilson. “Organizations such as the Secular Student Alliance and Freedom From Religion Foundation all contribute to the atheist sense of belonging, so it’s like a second home to me.”
FFRF says this billboard is part of a plan to highlight and support atheists of color, who often face additional and unique hurdles when coming out as non-religious. They actually featured Wilson in a digital ad earlier this year:
I will say, the quotation rubbed me the wrong way at first because, while you choose to be an atheist, you don’t choose your ethnicity. But I get what Wilson is saying. I’m an Indian and I’m an atheist, and I take pride in both as well, but in different ways. I can honor my culture and its contributions to the world, while also celebrating a decision I made on my own to walk away from religion.
If this billboard helps other African American students who have religious doubts realize that they’re not alone, that’s a net positive for everyone. Even if it just spurs conversation, that’d be a win.
Mandisa Thomas, the president of Black Nonbelievers, told me she was “glad to see FFRF improve their diversity and inclusion efforts with this new billboard, their scholarships for students of color, and their generous support for the upcoming Women of Color Beyond Belief conference [which her group is putting on].”
Wilson told me he hasn’t received any backlash from the billboard. Yet. Hopefully it’ll remain that way.