Meet the New AHA Staff Member: Emily Newman

Meet the American Humanist Association’s new Education Assistant, Emily Newman! What is your educational and work background?

I earned a BS in psychology with an additional major in creative writing and also got my master’s in professional writing from Carnegie Mellon University. I worked for a few non-profits, including editing work for the United Nations, before becoming the communications and office manager of Cynthia King Dance Studio in Brooklyn, New York. At the same time, my position with the American Ethical Union expanded from newsletter editor to communications coordinator. In 2016 I joined The Humanist Institute as communications and development assistant, and I am now the education assistant of the American Humanist Association Center for Education.

Emily Newman How did you first learn about humanism?

I was raised humanist though I can’t recall when exactly I began using the term. My parents always emphasized the importance of caring for people and the planet, respecting different views, and striving to be our best selves. I remember learning about humanism in school when we reviewed world religions and studied the Enlightenment, so I’m always surprised to hear people are unaware of humanism. Often when I talk about it people say, “That sounds good. I guess I’m a humanist too.” Did you grow up in a traditional religious faith? How did it impact you?

I grew up in Ethical Culture, a nontheistic religion often seen as a humanist alternative to traditional religion. My mother was brought up Catholic and my father was brought up Jewish, so they looked for a community that taught and practiced ethics without dogma, but we still celebrated holidays from both traditions. I loved attending the Ethics for Children program at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture (called Sunday school back in my day), especially festivals that brought all ages together in celebration. I continue to enjoy visiting Ethical Societies, sometimes catching talks online, even though I don’t attend one regularly. It’s comforting to know there are groups that provide ways to connect over, learn about, and act on nontheistic values. What interested you most about working for the American Humanist Association?

I am most interested in supporting the American Humanist Association’s chapters and affiliates by providing them with more resources and trainings. It is often difficult for group organizers to make it to onsite trainings or commit to graduate-level courses, so the Center for Education will help bring information to them with more online opportunities they can use on their own time and program materials they can share with members. I also look forward to reaching out to more people interested in becoming celebrants, chaplains, lay leaders, and invocators. There are so many ways to educate people about the humanist life stance. What book has influenced you the most?

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison was a big influence on me not only because of its strong imagery, but also because it was the first book read by my mother-daughter book group. My friend’s mom was concerned that there wasn’t enough reading and talking about reading in our middle school, so she initiated the group (six mother-daughter pairings) and recommended we begin with The Bluest Eye because it is such an important and beautiful book. The group discussed a mix of short stories, memoirs, fantasy, philosophy, and poems, and continued up until we left for college. Definitely added to my love of reading and discussion. If you could have dinner with any three people in the world (living or dead), who would they be and why?

I would love to have dinner with my great uncle, Father Thomas James O’Keefe. He was an ordained Catholic priest though he understood there are times religion has its limits, for example he recommended a woman go on the pill instead of struggling to raise more children. He died when I was a baby so I only know him through family stories and photographs, which make me wish I got to meet him. I’d also invite Julie Andrews because she seems sweet, has many lovely stories, and after dinner we would have tea and cake and sing “Getting to Know You.” Actress and comedian Tiffany Haddish would be my third dinner guest because I love her positive energy and humor, things we need more of in the world.