Meet the New AHA Staff: Executive Director Nadya Dutchin

Learn more about the AHA’s new executive director! What is your educational and work background?

I studied Molecular and Cellular Biology at Florida A&M University and worked in clinical laboratories during and after college as a medical receptionist, phlebotomist, and lab technician. After college, I worked for a local blood bank in Jacksonville, FL, where I organized blood drives at local businesses and places of worship. In 2008, I moved to Maryland to work for Be The Match Registry as an Account Executive for Maryland and Pennsylvania. After a promotion, I became the National Account Executive, coordinating all college partnerships, strategic partnerships and creating a college-focused program called Be The Match on Campus. Once I had my daughter, I knew that climate change would be the biggest challenge facing her generation and I began brokering clean energy contracts and creating a subscriber acquisition/management process for local community solar projects at non-profit Groundswell, Inc. in Washington, DC. During my time at Groundswell, I was a Board Member and, later, the Treasurer at Power Shift Network, which led to my appointment as the Interim Executive Director of Power Shift Network and finally as the Co-Executive Director responsible for communications and development. Along the way, I’ve taken courses in human-centered design, grant writing, project management, and peer-to-peer training. How did you first learn about humanism?

I first recall learning about humanism after hearing a radio ad one morning as I was leaving for work and it never occurred to me that there was an actual humanist movement until that moment. I remember thinking, “Oh, that sounds like me!” and, unbeknownst to me, I’ve been living my life and raising my daughter as a humanist since my early 30s. Did you grow up in a traditional religious faith? How did it impact you?

My parents and my father’s side of the family are Roman Catholic and I was raised in the Catholic Church, despite being baptized as a Lutheran in Minnesota. From the time I was a small child, I always questioned Christianity and recall asking my grandmother about the concept of original sin because it seemed absurd to me that innocent babies could be sinful–she didn’t like my questions in the least. During high school and through much of my time at college, I attended African-American Missionary Baptist Churches where I enjoyed the sense of community and services that were lively and filled with uplifting music. My journey to atheism began when I was 15. I read the entire Bible, cover-to-cover, and was deeply disturbed by the contradictions and violence. I became quite mistrustful of how the current iteration of the Bible came to be. By the time I was preparing for college graduation, I really began to ask bigger questions about who is, and where is god? If people in India, Japan, or Iran don’t believe that Christ is their savior, what happens to them? Aren’t they good people? Is heaven not for them? I truly didn’t want to be a part of any religion that claimed that theirs was the only true path, so I began to learn more about Buddhism as a philosophy and released my fear of being alone and of the judgement of others. For the first time I felt free, brave, and empowered to shape my world in ways that brought me peace and allowed me to meaningfully serve people every day. What interested you most about working for the American Humanist Association?

For the past three decades the religious-right have done everything in their power to erode the rights of working class people and undermine foundational tenets of our democratic republic. The 2016 election was almost catastrophic for this country, but I was pleasantly surprised by the vast number of people who woke up from being comfortable and complacent. When I really studied the AHA, the composition of its members, and its impressive legal and policy work, I knew that my coalition and movement-building skills could be useful to help us engage the largest base of voters: Millennials and Gen Z. If we’re honest, the Far Right are better organized and they are in lockstep with one another, even when they have ideological differences. We humanists have the ability to appeal to the logic and reason of good people, regardless of their religious affiliations, because we base our arguments on science and common sense solutions which can benefit everyone. The humanist movement is primed to welcome a more youthful and holistically diverse base who want to change the world. The “Nones” are looking for a warm and inviting community of like-minded, compassionate people to build and take action with and I knew that the AHA and its members would be the perfect home for the next generation of active and engaged humanists. What book has influenced you the most?

I’ve read many books that have had an impact on me, but none more than The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Due to various traumatic experiences in my life, I developed some unhealthy, co-dependent habits that cause me to feel despondent and anxious whenever I was disappointed by someone and, worse, by my own actions. The Four Agreements inspired me to become more truthful with myself and gave me the framework to create healthy habits and boundaries for myself. I know that if I always do my best; speak with love, positivity, and integrity; don’t internalize the actions and words of other people; and ask probing questions instead of assuming things, life will be more peaceful and I would stop second guessing myself and others. I realize that this book is based on Toltec wisdom stemming from spiritual exploration throughout human history, but I do believe that the journey towards personal enlightenment is what brings many of us to atheism or agnosticism and are not in conflict with my atheist perspective. These four (now five: be skeptical and learn to listen) guideposts have helped me to stay deeply centered and true to myself while helping to keep my mind fertile for new ideas and experiences. If you could have dinner with any three people in the world (living or dead), who would they be and why?

This is such a difficult question because there are so many people I love and admire! I suppose I would choose three people I’ve never personally known: Zora Neale Hurston, Dr. Mae Jemison, and Gordon Parks. Zora Neale Hurston is my favorite writer and she was so far ahead of her time with regards to how women could think and act during the time of the Harlem Renaissance. Ms. Hurston was free: free from religion, free from expectation, and free from judgement, and I so admired that in her. Dr. Mae Jemison is everything that my daughter aspires to be: a ballet dancer, a physician, and an astronaut. Aside from her natural talent, I’d want to know what drove her to live her passions and what was being in space like as a woman who was once a small Black girl like my little one. Gordon Parks was by far one of the most talented photographers in my lifetime and his photos represented an America—a Black, Brown, and marginalized America—that I remember seeing in person and on television. In photos and in movies, he captured unpolished and vibrant Black people in urban cityscapes which he, and I, found beautiful and powerful. How did he start taking photos? Who or what inspired him and what made him want to show the unvarnished perspectives of inner city people to the world? Gordon Parks’ work evokes pain, beauty, and pride which causes me to reflect on how our people, Black, African people, create so much brilliance after the pain of bondage. Each of these pioneers have influenced me in ways I can’t quite articulate, but I can guarantee that aside from asking questions, I would be silent during dinner, so as not to miss a single utterance from any of them.