3rd place (tie): People of color essay contest — Stephanie Black

Deep trenches: Finding the path to humanity

FFRF awarded Stephanie $2,500.

By Stephanie Black

Stephanie Black

Fear. The word is very familiar to me as I have lived most of my life growing up living in fear. The familiar feeling of my heartbeat speeding up, of the sweat coating my forehead and my hands, the anxiety creeping up my spine. I felt like I did not have a voice, I did not have a mind, and I did not have freedom. I felt fear that I was constantly being disobedient, that I was not being the perfect child of God. I feared judgment, I feared ridicule, I feared not getting into heaven by making even the slightest mistake. “God looks high and looks low.” People would tell me that every chance they got and the fear would build up in me.

Caged. Growing up in a Christian family, I had to attend bible study on Wednesdays, Sunday school on Sunday, church service on Sunday, and church school during the summer. That, however, was not exactly the worst part. I was caged within the cycle of physical, emotional and verbal abuse. I felt that the abuse I endured was a punishment for disobeying God whenever I did something that went against the 10 Commandments or went against the word of God preached during the church sermons. I felt that my imperfections were condemned. I blamed myself for not being able to follow after God’s example. But, there were times when I had not done anything wrong and was still a victim of the cycle of abuse. And, so, I wonder why God did not protect me since he protected all of his children. I was a caged prisoner, and, as I reached out past the bars, all that was there for me was the back that God turned on me.

Starvation. I began to question my beliefs as, continuously, people would tell me to pray about the abuse I was experiencing, even when praying did not do anything for me. I began to experience emotional starvation as my challenge of religious beliefs broke bonds that I held dear to me. Romantic relationships crumbled, friendships collapsed and family bonds decayed. One of my closest friends withdrew from our friendship because I questioned the persecution and discrimination of groups of people by the hands of God. My friend believed that if God said so and if it is within the will of God, it is OK for people to be discriminated against. It broke me that I could not keep the friendship because of the fact that I refused to abide by hatred. I was frustrated with the fact that I was starving and was not able to consume the emotional connections I desperately desired because I rejected religion.

Freedom. Mahatma Gandhi once asserted, “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” Breaking away from religion has granted me the understanding of what it means to be human. I am no longer standing yards away from freedom, forever reaching for it but barely catching it. I am no longer suffocating from the pressure of being the perfect individual. I am no longer succumbing to the exclusion of groups of people. I am no longer making excuses for receiving harsh treatment. I  am no longer living in fear, I am no longer caged and I am no longer starving. I know now that it is more than OK to have a mind of my own, to speak up about dark situations, and to make mistakes as I am thinking through my steps in life. I regained pieces of my humanity.

Stephanie, 19, attends Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, majoring in physics and math. Stephanie’s goal is to earn a Ph.D. in plasma astrophysics. “I am a social media Black activist in which I use my Instagram account to promote Black-owned businesses, Black art, Black authors/poets and Black musicians,” Stephanie writes. “I also use my social media platform to educate my follows on Black history and Black modern-day issues.”