Activism works best at the grassroots level. It is up to the every person to make sure his or her voice is heard, not only on major policies, but also in our day-to-day lives. AHA chapters are a wonderful place to do so. Groups across the country affiliated with AHA meet throughout the year to discuss hot-button issues as well as academic topics and share in companionship with like-minded people. Humanism is not just about advocating for science and separation of church and state and ethical issues; it’s about community.
Recently, I corresponded with Stephen Mitchell, president of the Red Bank Humanists in Red Bank, New Jersey. Founded in 2003, the Red Bank Humanists is a fast growing organization with monthly meetings and special events. Most recently, they celebrated Darwin Day with special guest speaker Stephen Loring, anthropologist and archaeologist for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. We discussed the group’s history, its current activities, and what it plans are for the future.
HNN: How long has the group been existence? How did it form?
Stephen Mitchell: The group has been holding monthly meetings since November 2003. We formed with the help from another AHA chapter, the New Jersey Humanist Network. A survey was presented at our meeting on February 8, 2004, to gather information about potential members and their interests. It provided useful information about those who have been participating in the meetings, including their suggestions for meeting topics and an indication of their intended level of participation in the group. On June 4, 2004 …we became Red Bank Humanists, Inc., a non-profit corporation in the state of New Jersey.
HNN: What kind of programs do you offer your members?
Mitchell: We offer sever types of programs. Our Monthly Forum is our most prominent. It’s held on the second Sunday of each month, except in August, when we have a picnic at a local park. Our Monthly Forums most often consist of a moderated discussion on various topics relating to humanism, and occasionally we’ll have presentations or lectures by special guests. Our February Monthly Forum is always designated as a Darwin Day Celebration.
Other programs include:
- a Humanist Salon, a potluck party replicating the spirit of a classical French Salon and held three to four times a year
- a successful book club once a month, alternating between fiction and non-fiction books
- a cocktail get together every other month called “Drinking Post-Theologically” where we meet at various local pubs for pints and conversation
- a Human Light Celebration party every December
HNN: What events are planned for this year? Which event are you looking forward to the most?
Mitchell: This year we have our all our regular programs planned. Our newest concept has been to start an activist wing of our organization, which will organize letter writing campaigns in the local media to combat attacks to our nonreligious freedom and to the separation of churchand state. Our March Monthly Forum will fall on March 14 this year, Pi Day. So, I hope to mark the day with a few homemade pies at our Forum. Last year’s Human Light Celebration was a huge success, we really stepped it up and had Paul Kurtz come and speak. I’d like to keep up that momentum with this year’s Human Light. And we’re also planning to table at a few local events and festivals, to spread local awareness about our organization.
HNN: What makes your group different from other groups?
Mitchell: Our organization stands out from other organizations by consistently producing quality programs, and effectively promoting our events. This has only happened because we have had a lot of very dedicated people (Board of Directors) helping with the planning of events, marketing, organizing, and constantly communicating and tweaking things to, not only get things right, but make things better.
HNN: Where do you see your chapter in five years?
Mitchell: Right now the organization is still young, and we’re trying to develop the tools and processes to build a successful and sustainable non-profit. In five years I hope to have all the kinks worked out, and proper processes in place, so that future leaders of the organization will have a stable foundation to build on and improve even more.