A Historic First: Women of Color Beyond Belief

The room was filled with a sea of melanin. Eager eyes scanned the room as hugs and kisses were being given with friendly greetings. On the conference room floor, a young adult pulled her father along to check the tables at the event, thanking him for being open to her journey. The faces of those who attended the Women of Color Beyond Belief conference in Chicago, Illinois, October 4-6 were young, old, disabled, Queer, Latinx, and Black. The sea of people—both old movement hats and new voices—welcomed each other as lifelong friends, and an overwhelming sense of love and understanding permeated the room, It felt like a college homecoming where alumni and students meet to celebrate their experiences. Although this was only the first year of the conference, it served as a home for women of color who are atheist, secular, spiritual, or still figuring it out. Women of Color Beyond Belief filled a need for those who never had a space to share their common thoughts and ideas as people of color experiencing a journey that is still uncommon in ethnoreligious cultures.

My experience far surpassed my expectations. I felt at ease knowing that likeminded people were on the same path of self-discovery, and that everyone in the room was full of questions. It reminded me that we as humans are all continuously evolving. Activists and freethinkers in the community, and of course the organizers, Mandisa Thomas, Bridget Crutchfield, and Sikivu Hutchinson (“the Dream Team” as they are lovingly known), made it possible. “Putting together the Women of Color Beyond Belief conference with Sikivu and Bria was an amazing experience,” Thomas told me. “Knowing there are so many women whose voices need to be heard and their work recognized really made this event so special and important. And it was so good to see the love and solidarity expressed in the space.” Because they received so much positive feedback, Thomas says they plan to make WCBB an annual event, “a potential institution.”

From the breakout sessions to the Diva Ball, it was all memorable. But don’t just take my word for it!

My attendance and participation at the Women of Color Beyond Belief Conference was both empowering, freeing, and nothing short of amazing. I was able to engage in fellowship with a diverse group of women and hear and tell stories that needed to be told: stories about black women’s health and reproductive justice, violence against women across all cultures, contending “isms,” anti-racism, religion in marginalized societies, etc. Though we all had different backgrounds, our experiences were similar and our collective lack of belief was the common glue. The organizers did a phenomenal job of putting together and facilitating the entire event. I thank the “Five Fierce Humanists”—Bridgett Crutchfield, Mandisa Thomas, Candace Gorham, Sikivu Hutchison, and Liz Ross—so much for being constant inspirations. I am also happy to have been able to meet with the ex-Muslim group and be able to discuss my dear coworker’s situation with someone who understands what it would be like to leave that community and what I can do to help her. I was able to support a black-woman owned business, Wynter Garden Beauty. Additionally, the “Secure the Bag” food packing project was an incredible success. I was proud to help and volunteer my children to help. I am anxiously awaiting next year’s event. This event was needed!”

—Marquita Tucker (Panelist)

Being a part of the inaugural Women of Color Beyond Belief Conference was an amazing experience for so many reasons! There’s something magical about being surrounded by people who truly understand many facets of your experience and being free to just “be” in each other’s’ presence. Aside from the fellowship, learning from the speakers, and being chosen to speak on important topics myself, one of the moments that gave me such joy was meeting an elder in the restroom and hearing about how this was the first time she’d been in the presence of any other Black women atheists. The happiness on her face filled me with pride and let me know beyond any doubt that what we were doing there is so very important. I can’t stress how grateful I am to have been a part of it, and I look forward to follow and be involved in what the future holds for Black and Brown women atheists/humanists with the Five Fierce Humanists leading the charge!

—Deanna Adams (Participant/Panelist)

Focusing on racial and gender justice, the conference was the first national gathering by, for, and about secular women of color. It was intended as a safe space and platform for progressive sociopolitical issues—such as the intersection of sexual violence, domestic abuse, reproductive rights, and the criminalization of Black and brown bodies—that are frequently marginalized in mainstream atheism and humanism.

As the Trump administration, the GOP, and the religious right ramp up their attacks on secularization, reproductive justice, women’s self-determination, and the human rights of queer LGBTQI communities, the Women of Color Beyond Belief Conference couldn’t be more timely.

Sikivu Hutchison (Organizer/Presenter)

If you missed this year’s Women of Color Beyond Belief, you missed out on HER-story in the making. But fear not, there’s always next year to be a part of the movement.