Journeys to Humanism, theHumanist.com’s regular series, features real stories from humanists in our community. From heartwarming narratives of growth, to more difficult journeys, our readers open up about their experiences coming to humanism.
Gwendolyn Rose Forrest
I was born in Detroit, Michigan to a working class African American family. My father was a barber and my mother, a housewife, occasionally worked outside of the home as a domestic or store clerk. Both of my parents were kind, thoughtful people who allowed their children to speak their minds. In my family, education and religion were priorities. My two sisters and I attended public schools, where we thrived. Every Sunday the family attended a Black progressive Baptist church which did not teach fire and brimstone, but was male-dominated. My father was a trustee and my mother taught Sunday school. My sisters and I were active in the youth choir and other youth activities. At the time, I did not give much thought to religion other than briefly wondering why my two best girlfriends were Methodist and Catholic instead of Baptist. I considered myself a good Christian who believed in God, Jesus, the miraculous birth and resurrection, prayer, the Bible, and all that jazz.
I graduated high school at age sixteen, was hired as a clerical worker, and enrolled in college. I was well aware of the civil rights movement in America, including the activities of the Black Panthers, Black Muslims, NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Council, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the United Negro Action Council, a local organization. I also was acquainted with Students for a Democratic Society and their anti-Vietnam war efforts. My interactions with Black Muslims made me think objectively about my religion for the first time, and after completing a course in comparative religions, I began to question Christianity. My eclectic journey to humanism had begun.
I married, and after having a stillborn, my husband and I adopted a little boy. I graduated college with a BA in sociology (minor in psychology) and became a social worker. After I took a position as a human/civil rights advocate, we adopted a little girl. During this time, I discovered Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s The Science of Being and Act of Living, and Thomas A. Harris’ I’m OK – You’re OK, along with the practice of meditation. This activity moved me to leave the Baptist church with my children and join a liberal non-denominational Christian church that emphasized ethical behavior not biblical knowledge. My accommodating husband did not object to our move but did not change his church affiliation.
When my marriage collapsed, my children and I moved to Atlanta, Georgia where I worked in economic development, divorced, and wrestled with my increasing religious disbelief. After returning to Detroit, I held several professional positions while earning a MA in Public Administration. During this time, I attended church infrequently and briefly explored Buddhism and the Baháʼí faith. While employed as a fundraiser for Wayne State University, my alma mater, I was recruited to Portland State University in Oregon. Away from my family in Detroit, I no longer attended church. When I took a position in Chicago, Illinois, I knew I did not believe in the efficacy of prayer or Christianity anymore. Now, influenced by the writings of Dr. Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, and others, I considered myself to be spiritual rather than religious.
From Chicago, I moved around the country, living with my daughter and her military family. During this time, interacting with people of varying backgrounds, beliefs, biases, and faiths helped me to clarify my worldview.
When I returned to Detroit, I understood that my nonbelief in a god characterized me as an atheist and joined the Freethinking Women of Michigan and the Michigan Atheists. Later, I was introduced to humanism. Because its core values and emphasis on doing good without a god were in sync with my worldview, I joined the American Humanist Association (AHA). My eclectic journey was over. I had found my tribe. I also joined the Humanists of Southeast Michigan and, impressed by Sherman T. Wine’s Staying Sane in a Crazy World, I became a board member and chair of the Feminine Alliance Committee until this organization disbanded.
Presently, I consider myself a humanist global citizen. I am a member of the AHA, its Feminist Humanist Alliance, Black Humanist Alliance, and Center for Freethought Equality. I also am a member of the Center for Inquiry and the Black Nonbelievers. Additionally, I am the proud author of two published books, Dreams, Deeds, and Destiny: Purpose and Possibility in the Space Age and Everyday Ethics and Equity: The Foundation for Character and Self-Esteem. Both books express humanist principles and are available at Amazon.com and other bookstores.
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