FFRF is pleased to announce that it has awarded $10,000 in scholarship awards in memory of Catherine Fahringer to four students chosen by the Black Skeptics of Los Angeles, an African-American atheist community-based group.
The scholarship is part of the First in the Family Humanist Scholarship program, which focuses on undocumented, foster care, homeless or LGBTQ youth who will be the first in their families to go to college.
According to BSLA founder Sikivu Hutchinson, “Secular African American youth disproportionately come from religious backgrounds and communities. These youth are often marginalized in K-12 and higher education due to their non-conformity. This scholarship program provides a platform for their voices and experiences.”
Fahringer was a San Antonio feminist and freethinking activist who ran a long-lived FFRF chapter and served on FFRF’s executive board for many years. She was especially interested in nurturing the next generation of freethinkers. She died in 2008.
Here are excerpts from the winners’ essays.
By Huanchun Xu
As an undocumented immigrant who will be the first in my family to go to college, I have met more barriers than other college applicants. I know how hard and stressful the application process can be. I spent so much time wondering how I can pay for everything. Can I apply for any financial aid or scholarships? These kinds of questions always bothered me because it took so long to find answers. I knew there must be others in the same situation, and I wondered how I might be able to help them.
I participated in the Freedom and Citizenship program, a summer-intensive project in political philosophy at Columbia University. Through the year-long civic action project, I wanted to do research to provide more information to undocumented students, especially about scholarships and college financial aid.
Our group made two goals: to educate others about undocumented immigrants and to inform undocumented immigrants about the college application process. We hoped more undocumented students could achieve their college dreams with our help.
For my part, specifically, I told my high school guidance counselor what I felt as an undocumented student when I applied to college. I explained our project to her, and even though my counselor was busy, I convinced her to help. At first, she decided to give me about 15 minutes for an interview to share my experience. After the interview, she decided to help. Between the two of us, we divided work in order to gather more information in a short time. The process was hard, tiring and complicated, but if people can understand the difficulties undocumented students face, then our hard work was worth it. The work we did is now available online at freedomandcitizenship.columbia.edu/immigration for free access.
Through the Freedom and Citizenship project, I hoped to make social change. Through the project, we tried to encourage people to think from different point of views, to think about why undocumented students must work so hard in order to enroll in college.
Xu, 20, graduated from Liberty High School Academy for Newcomers, in New York City. She is attending the Borough of Manhattan Community College with an emphasis in communication.
By Shalvit Grimes
The issue of access to education for girls of color is among the greatest social justice issues of our time. As of 2017, research shows that 130 million school-aged girls of color worldwide do not attend school. To put that number in perspective, that is just shy of the entire population of Russia. Can you imagine if all of the inhabitants of Russia were denied a basic elementary education? I firmly believe that, as a society, we are each responsible for standing up for human rights and for creating social change.
Humanism is the belief that all people, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic standing or geography, should be treated equally. Through my research, I’ve learned that the inequality in access to education for girls is often rooted in social values that dictate that men are superior to women, religious beliefs about the proper role of a woman, and poverty, which demands that young girls stay home and take care of their siblings.
I was first exposed to the global girls’ education crisis in the seventh grade. At the suggestion of one of my teachers, my friends and I started a chapter of Girl Up at my middle school. Girl Up is sponsored by the United Nations and encourages students to create local clubs/chapters to raise awareness about the issue, to advocate for the rights of girls globally, and to raise funds to send girls to school.
Over the past six years I’ve served as president of my local chapter of Girl Up and have successfully sent 179 girls in the Republic of Congo to school.
In 2016, I was afforded the distinct opportunity to attend a conference with global leaders sponsored by the Let Girls Learn campaign, which is an initiative championed by Michelle Obama to bring US resources to assist in the fight to get girls of color educated. Being in a room with leaders from around the world to discuss strategies to reverse gender inequities showed me that social change is possible. I observed that while the world leaders present clearly had different religious and cultural world views, religion and politics did not enter the conversations. My intention is to one day be among those world leaders strategizing ways to reverse gender- and race-based inequalities.
Shalvit, 18, graduated from St. John’s High School in Washington, D.C. She is attending St. John’s University, with plans to major in criminal justice with a minor in social justice.
By Mike Grimes
In 2011, my family experienced the sudden and tragic death of my father. To say that the loss was heart-rending would be an understatement. It was my father who taught me the principles of humanism.
My father was on his way home from work when he was struck by a commercial truck. According to testimony, the truck driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. He woke up and tried to brake but they did not operate effectively. We later learned that the brake failure was attributable to deferred maintenance on the truck.
Despite the obvious fault of the trucking company, it put my family through hell in the following months. The irony of this was that the company’s website proudly proclaimed that they were a “Christian company” with deep “family values.” I learned quickly that their stated family values did not extend to my family.
My mother had to move quickly from mourning the loss of her husband to engaging in a brutal lawsuit with the company, which refused to admit fault. Our finances were already heavily dependent on my father’s income, and the added legal bills resulted in us losing our home. In the aftermath of my father’s death, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of family, friends and strangers who offered us shelter, meals, comfort and understanding during our period of homelessness.
The accident ignited a passion within me to care for the homeless and underfed and to practice the principles of humanism in all my affairs, specifically “to lead a meaningful, ethical life capable of adding to the greater good of humanity.”
I decided to dedicate my life to paying homage to my father’s legacy as a good humanist. I channel his spirit of giving and have made it a point to always look for new ways to give to those in need. I believe that the issue of homelessness could be eradicated if everyone took on a humanist belief.
My life before the loss of my father is one that I often dream of having back. However, in the time after the accident, I have grown to be a giving and charitable person, I have seen humanity at its best and I’ve gained a greater appreciation for humanism a
nd the potential for positive social change that it offers.
Mike, 19, graduated from The Potomac School in McLean, Va.. He is attending Honors College of Charleston where he is majoring in finance with a concentration in entrepreneurship and a minor in German.
By Desmyon Jones
In the seventh grade, I realized that I was different. The fear that my family would hate me encouraged me to conceal this information. The guilt that I felt transformed me from a bubbly child into a recluse who barely uttered a word. One day, my mother decided she’d seen enough of this behavior and confronted me, “Why do you look sad every time I see you?” Usually, I would just mumble “nothing” and quickly scurry off to my bedroom. However, this time I’d made the mistake of crying when she asked the question. I planned on repeating the phrase “nothing’s wrong” until she gave up and left me alone, but, for some reason, my body decided to betray me and did the exact opposite of what I told it not to do. With my head hanging low and my eyes blinded by wetness, I blurted out, “I think I’m gay.” She accused me of being possessed by the devil and left me with a lingering message: “The devil comes to steal, kill and destroy. He wants to tear you away from God.”
Many LGBTQ+ youth suffer from emotional distress that comes from being gay while also being a member of a faith that teaches its followers that homosexuals deserve to spend eternity in hell. Some people go as far as kicking their own children out of their homes or making them feel so unloved that they resort to taking their life. In fact, suicide has become the second-leading cause of death among young people. It sickens me to think that people who cause LGBTQ+ youth to live their lives in fear and shame believe they deserve a reward when they die.
As a non-white, non-straight, nonreligious female, I’ve gotten to experience firsthand how frightening it can be to try being yourself in a society that expects you to be like everyone else. Getting rid of religion in favor of humanism would ultimately lead to healthier family dynamics between LGBTQ+ youth and their relatives. It will create a society in which people aren’t acting self-righteous to appease some imaginary man in the sky, but doing their very best to let everyone know that they belong.
Desmyon, 18, graduated from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus, Miss. She is attending the University of Memphis with plans to major in civil engineering.