Leaving Religion Behind - Special Challenges in the African American & Hispanic Communities


Leaving Religion behind

Past Event: August 7th, 2016

American citizens enjoy a constitutionally protected right to make their own choices about religion.  And Jefferson's famed 'Wall of Separation' has certainly served as a bulwark  - albeit an imperfect one - against would be theocrats and the historical revisionists who serve them.  Nonetheless, when it comes to atheism, there’s still a huge gulf between such freedoms as the law guarantees and practical reality on the ground. Today we'll be discussing those realities.  So please join us for a frank discussion about the special challenges that people in the African American and Hispanic communities face when trying to leave religion behind.

Speakers will include Candace Gorham, David Tamayo, Sylvio Lynch Jr., and Mandisa Thomas.
Program moderators: Tiffany Green and Rob Penczak

Please see below for info about each panelist.

Candace Gorham

Candace received her Bachelor’s degree in Secondary English Education from North Carolina Central University. She received her Master’s degree in mental health counseling from Wake Forest University. Candace’s religious background is varied, including Jehovah's Witnesses and Methodist. At 18, she joined a very charismatic ministry during which time she was ordained as an evangelist, prophetess, and elderess. Becoming involved in and leading extremist activities such as casting out demons, fasting for weeks at a time and faith healing, Candace was a believer’s believer. She worked hard to be the minister, wife, and mother that she believed god had planned her to be. When real world problems were overwhelming her, she tried even harder to win god’s approval and blessing. Suffering with major depression to the point of being suicidal and facing severe financial hardships, Candace thought that she must have been doing something wrong. She dove into studying the Bible more than ever before. She became disillusioned with the contradictions and blatant errancy she found. Mounting questions regarding the similarities between Jesus and other god legends before him, the nature of god, and concepts of hell and evil were just a few of the issues that caused her to eventually decide that she could no longer believe in a deity. From a place of empathy and compassion, Candace decided to start the Ebony Exodus Project which aims to highlight the harmful effects of religion on all believers, but especially for black women. In addition to ongoing work as a counselor, Candace is a member of The Clergy Project and the Secular Therapist Project.


David Tamayo

David is the Founder and President of Hispanic American Freethinkers.  Other credits include:

  • CIO/VP of technology for a large aerospace engineering company in D.C.

  • Vice President of Reason Rally 2016

  • Organizer of HAFree High School outreach mentor Program

  • Co-founder of Camp Quest Chesapeake

David is a long time host of Road to Reason: A Skeptic's guide to the 21st Century, and also host of the Spanish-language HAFree podcast.  He appeared in the documentary film, "My Week in Atheism"; is a sought after speaker at national atheist / critical thinking conferences; and is currently working on a documentary film about US Latinos and their beliefs.


Sylvio Lynch Jr.

About Sylvio: Born October 31, 1949 in Asheville, North Carolina, married 40 years to Frances,  with one son. B.A. English from Elizabeth City State University, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Master of Divinity from the School of Theology Virginia Union University, Richmond, Virginia, served as an Intern-Chaplain MCV/VCU Hospital, served as an Intern-Chaplain  Va. State Penitentiary (Spring Street) Richmond, Va., served in the United States Army-Infantry, Vietnam 1970 Bronze Star.  Sylvio also helps out by sharing some of his experiences with the Secular Student Alliance at VCU.


Mandisa Thomas

Mandisa Thomas is a founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence in today’s society,” she recalls.

Mandisa has a number of media appearances to her credit, including CBS Sunday Morning, CNN.com, and JET magazine. She has been a guest on podcasts such as The Humanist Hour and Ask an Atheist, as well as the documentaries Contradiction and My Week in Atheism. Mandisa currently serves on the Boards for American Atheists and the Reason Rally Coalition, and previously for Foundation Beyond Belief and the Secular Coalition for America. She also is an active speaker, and has presented at conferences/conventions for Freedom from Religion Foundation, Secular Student Alliance, and many others.

As the president of Black Nonbelievers, Inc., Mandisa works to encourage more Blacks to come out and stand strong with their nonbelief in the face of such strong religious overtones. "The more we make our presence known, the better our chances of working together to turn around some of the disparities we face. We are NOT alone."


Jason Callahan

Jason was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio where he was exposed to many different faith belief systems and lived in a diverse community near Cleveland’s University Circle. That environment encouraged him to explore his own beliefs and engage others in the exploration of theirs. Despite joining the church of his grandmother and being baptized Presbyterian, Jason continued to reconcile his experience in a scientific world with the theologies of his diverse community. After working in the advertising industry in New York, Jason moved to Richmond, Virginia to pursue a Master of Divinity. Upon completion, Jason began working as a chaplain at VCU Health System and is an endorsed chaplain by the American Humanist Association. He is actively engaged in Richmond’s theological community and currently is working on increasing the numbers of non-theistic board certified chaplains. He lives in Richmond with his wife, Erin, and pets Emmett, Poncho, and Sidney.


Tiffany Green

Tiffany Green is an economist and an assistant professor in the department of Health Behavior and Policy in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.  She has been a member of Toastmasters International since 2010.  Over the last several years, she has leveraged her public speaking and leadership experience to give presentations on public speaking, coach other aspiring speakers, and to volunteer with local secular groups.   Tiffany is the Vice President of the Richmond Reason and Naturalism Association (RRNA) and has led several monthly discussions for the group.  She is also certified as a Humanist Celebrant via the American Humanist Association (AHA).  In Summer 2015, Tiffany represented both the RRNA and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) at the historic 1st Annual Norfolk State University Founders Day Breakfast, giving a secular humanist invocation to commemorate the occasion.  She has also participated in a panel discussion on living without religion, with an emphasis on relating her experiences as an African American nonbeliever.  Tiffany is honored and excited to moderate a panel discussing the needs and experiences of nonbelievers of color.  She hopes that this event will be both entertaining and educational for all involved.        


Robert Penczak

Rob is a physician turned writer and secular activist, and the founder of SavedByScience, which seeks to provide educational programs of interest to the secular, skeptical, atheist, Humanist, and scientific communities.  Currently serves as Co-Producer and host of the public access television show, Road to Reason, co-president of Richmond Humanists, and is an active member of Richmond Reason and Naturalism Association.  

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