Association of Black Humanists win Award

In November’s newsletter we reported that the Association of Black Humanists (ABH) had won a London Faith & Belief Community Award, which was duly made at an impressive albeit online ceremony hosted by the Faith & Belief Forum.

SELHuG was proud to nominate them, and this is the submission:

Why the work of the Association of Black Humanists is so important

1. What work does it do and why is this important?

The Association of Black Humanists (ABH), formerly London Black Atheists is a group with a mission to support and encourage all people, particularly those from the African Diaspora, who are freethinkers, non-believers, atheists and humanists. 

It is well documented that for social and historical reasons, religion has become an intrinsic part of African and African-Caribbean people’s lives, making it extremely difficult to leave religion or come out as a non-believer. 84% of black people say they belong to a religion (BSA 2016) against a national average below 50%.

Black people who leave religion tend to receive a hostile reaction from family and friends, leaving them isolated with no one to turn to and nowhere to go. ABH provides a confidential, friendly, welcoming and supportive environment, a safe place to socialise and receive support. Members enjoy food, music, arts and other activities together. They celebrate life in ways unique to BAME cultures. 

ABH leaders also befriend members, giving listening ears and comfort when asked.

But ABH isn’t just about the support and socialising, it is also a busy, proactive humanist community:

  • • exploring what it means to be fully human
  • • civically engaging in the issues confronting society
  • • campaigning for human rights
  • • advocating for black non-religious people, being seen and heard.

That means serious discussions on a wide range of topics connected to beliefs, science, the environment, social issues, religion, race, sexuality and gender. It means tackling minority-within-minority human rights issues, organising and campaigning on issues around LGBT+, race, sexual abuse, modern slavery and more.

Recent examples include an online meeting: Black Lives Matter: the UK’s Hidden George Floyds examined injustice in British institutions and attracted over 60 attendees; the group’s busy Twitter feed features the ABH choir performing online to raise money for Tonic Living, the charity creating LGBT+ affirmative retirement communities.

2. Please tell us about the project’s impact 

Though ABH is led by three open humanists, the monthly meetings are intimate and can feel ‘underground’ because the vast majority of members fear being identified as non-believers. This grassroots project is therefore still relatively informal and uncharted.

However, the group has organised or been involved in an amazing 343 meetups to date, that is nearly one a week. It holds a regular monthly meeting at the Common House in Tower Hamlets; public meetings; a bookclub shared with Central London humanists; and it supports a host of other organisations and interests.

ABH has given talks to humanist and student groups across the country and many media and podcast interviews. It organised a Festival of Science and Reason in Red Lion Square in 2018 and a Wellness and Humanism Conference last year.

Until the police banned groups from having tables of literature at Hyde Park Corner, ABH had a presence there and held pavement debates with all comers, often attracting quite a lot of attention!

The group has 2,729 followers on Twitter, 1,339 on Facebook and 808 on MeetUp. 

ABH has been going on solidly for eight years for a reason. It has been a stable safe space where black people can come to support each other on issues from living as non-believers. 

Research by an MSc student at Kings College London into the impact of apostacy on mental health which included interviews with 13 ABH members found: “Once an apostate, a crisis of identity increases vulnerability to poorer mental health.” It found this could be lessened by protective factors, such as the kind of social support provided by ABH. Members regularly express the loneliness and isolation they would have been suffering without the space the ABH gives. 

ABH member Hari Parekh recalls on Youtube the dark days of coming out as non-religious when others regarded him as a traitor and he felt utterly alone. ABH leaders gave him a community and shared all their learning: “I cannot thank them enough.”

3. Why is the work of this project exceptional?

ABH is the first and so far only atheist, humanist, freethinker group for black people in the UK. Its organisers found the overwhelming religiosity of black communities created a dire need for a safe spaceto unburden and discuss difficult issues faced by those questioning or leaving the religion they were brought up with, or identifying as atheist or humanist. Issues include being LGBT+, allegations of witchcraft and demon possession. Some members are subjected to exorcism by their families.