2020 Harvard Humanist of the Year Award

Mandisa Thomas, Sikivu Hutchinson, and Ijeoma Oluo

The American Humanist Association (AHA) is honored to partner with the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, one of our chapters, in presenting HCH’s 2020 Humanist of the Year Award to three extraordinarily dedicated social justice leaders: Ijeoma Oluo, Sikivu Hutchinson, and Mandisa Thomas. The event will be held Thursday, September 17, from 3:00-4:15 p.m. ET on Zoom and AHA’s Facebook Live and, as part of the AHA Center for Education’s monthly Speaking of Humanism series, recorded and shared afterwards.

HCH’s Humanist of the Year Award, created more than twenty-five years ago, recognizes community leaders whose lives and contributions to society exemplify the values of humanism. In such a chaotic year, the group felt it was particularly important to choose awardees whose leadership embodies the very best of humanism’s potential to inspire necessary social change in a polarized climate. Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and MIT and our MC for the event, explains:

Humanism’s goal has always been to represent and uplift all human beings, emphasizing our common dignity and improving our common fate. Unfortunately, the humanist movement we have built over the past century has not always lived up to that lofty aspiration. This year’s Harvard Humanist of the Year honorees have made historically important contributions to building a humanism that, thanks to them, now comes a little closer to living up to its own stated ideals of justice, equity, and equality. The brilliant community and educational organizing that Mandisa Thomas and Sikivu Hutchinson have done has been an extraordinary gift to the humanist movement, and the exceptionally compelling and influential writing and public advocacy that Ijeoma Oluo has done, inspired by her humanist values, has been an enormous gift to the entire world. Especially in a year in which the consequences of prejudice and hypocrisy have been laid out all too bare for the world to see, we are grateful that these three leaders have accepted our award and we’re honored to do our part to shine a spotlight on their efforts.

The AHA is delighted to celebrate these dynamic women and further amplify their voices (see bios here). In 2018 the AHA presented Seattle-based writer and author Ijeoma Oluo with our Feminist Humanist Award. In her powerful speech, Oluo urged humanists to hold our communities and ourselves accountable in the struggle “to break free from the patriarchy, to break free from white supremacy, to break free from trans-misogyny, to break free from ableism and classism.” Later that year Mandisa Thomas and Sikivu Hutchinson were two of the “Five Fierce Humanists” featured in the July/August 2018 issue of the Humanist magazine and on the cover. Thomas, a current AHA board member, founded Black Nonbelievers, Inc. to connect Black atheists, humanists, and other nontheists and allies who are living free of religion and might otherwise be shunned by family and friends. Hutchinson, a member of the Black Humanist Alliance leadership council and contributor to AHA publications and our educational programming, established Black Skeptics Los Angeles to provide social justice resources, educational initiatives, and scholarships for nonbelievers, humanists, and secularists of African descent and communities of color.

To support continued social change, the 2020 Harvard award event will also include a fundraiser for Black Skeptics Los Angeles, and Black Nonbelievers, Inc., splitting all donations made at americanhumanist.org/donateharvard evenly between the two organizations. “I am honored to be receiving this prestigious award along with two other phenomenal Black women,” says Thomas. “It means so much for our work to be recognized, especially in this very trying year. I am hoping that more of our secular counterparts will better understand our work, as well as support them more.”