Meet the New AHA Staff Member: Jasmine Banks

Jasmine Banks with her family.

Please welcome the AHA’s new Communications Director, Jasmine Banks!

What is your educational and work background?

I have a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Communications, a Master of Arts in Community Counseling. I am also a certified early childhood educator, certified crisis responder, and former licensed associate counselor.

How did you first learn about humanism?

I learned about humanism in high school. I used to drive by a really beautiful Unitarian Universalist church in Brookside in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I stopped one day to inquire about what a Unitarian Universalist church was. The attendant answered my questions very graciously but I never attended an event. I was a busy high school student more interested in what my friends were doing (punk shows and hanging out). Later in life, after deconstructing from evangelicalism, I attended another UU church in Northwest Arkansas when my oldest child was a toddler. I wasn’t able to join that community as a result of the structural racism and neoliberalism that clashed with my lived experiences as an African American. Despite not integrating into their church, I began to explore humanism deeply. I’m an autodidact who found her way to thinkers like James Baldwin, Hannah Arendt, Sartre and many other postcolonial philosophers and political scientists. I found humanism within the social sciences and the schools of psychology I’d studied over the years. I endeavored to raise my children rooted in values that honor science, pluralism, and a generative orientation toward the transformation of self and society. Humanism also guides my views of what it means to be a beloved community member, to be in vocation, and the purpose of morality and justice.

Did you grow up in a traditional religious faith? How did it impact you?

I was raised by a single mother, aunties, and my grandmothers. My grandmother was a child who survived life before and after Jim Crow. While she attended an African American Baptist church and participated in religious communities, the conceptualization of religious faith isn’t the same as what you see in white religious institutions. I watched as my Grandma Annie Pearl’s religious faith led her to do things like create accessible daycares for single women and poor folks and take on school boards to get buses to poor Native, Black, and Hispanic kids in El Reno, Oklahoma. When she talked of a god she spoke of a god who made us to love one another, ourselves, and the planet. My Grandmother Annie Pearl was inclusive of all people, very affirming of me and my other queer and trans cousins, and never turned away strangers in need.

Later, in junior high, I was invited to a pizza party that turned out to be a “non-denominational” church recruitment scheme. My friends were there, there was always free food, and it occupied my time. I was a latchkey kid with a single mother who was working class. Soon what was supposed to be a filler for my boredom transformed into internalization of many of the regressive and oppressive ideals. My own childhood trauma, which I was unaware of as a junior high school student, found comfort in the dogmatic rules and procedures with the indoctrination. I felt a sense of structure and safety I didn’t experience as a child and the social expectations helped me feel like I had a blueprint to earn favor and approval from powerful people and a powerful god. I spent time evangelizing and quickly rose in the ranks of student leadership.

Later in life, through a process of education and trauma informed therapy and somatic healing, I slowly detached and deconstructed from my time inside the conservative Christian movement. Today I am able to recognize the movement for what it is; it is a political regime of authoritarian indoctrination that preys upon traumatized people to advance its theocratic agenda.

What interested you most about working for the American Humanist Association?

I was first called upon as a consultant to evaluate the capacity and infrastructure of the AHA to ensure it had what it needed to move forward with critical campaigns to intervene in the political agenda of the Christian Nationalist movement. After I provided my recommendations the executive leadership determined that I would be the best and most skillful candidate to anchor the necessary changes. I went back and forth a bit because I am repelled by formalized institutions in a big way. If you know AHA Executive Director Nadya Dutchin, however, she has a gentle persuasion to her. So I said yes, knowing that her belief in practitioners like myself makes the AHA, as an institution, a horse of a different color (as they say in Oz).

I also feel very specifically attracted to the opportunity to bridge older humanists to the present new wave of humanists who are hungry for more than philosophical performativity. In a moment where the United States’ democratic standing is in question and technology and dirty money in politics is creating negative bonds and polarization, I believe that the AHA can provide a place for belonging and remedy, if we can organize ourselves and commit ourselves to the struggle.

What book has influenced you the most?

I have to pick just one? Who asks a political organizer with a proclivity toward philosophy to pick JUST ONE?! I will start with one of the most recently impactful. Sarah Schulman’s book Conflict is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair very literally saved my life in a moment when a small group of organized people launched a campaign to overstate a misunderstanding I had with a friend. I had seen these online harassment and “cancellation” campaigns take place and I’d been the target of a few random ones in blogger circles over the years… but the most recent one was different. Schulman’s work helped me understand how, often in social justice spaces, we bond through “negative” or trauma bonds that require we are always looking for the next threat. So normative conflict, misunderstandings, and even human mistakes become overstated and conceptualized as threat and “violence.” I read the book and literally called Sarah at the university where she works and left her a message about how her work saved my life. I was shocked to find she called me back! She explained during my call with her that she gets hundreds of messages similar to mine. That experience, her book, and what she reported clarified for me that we must find new ways to belong to each other. In this proto-fascist climate we are tearing each other apart when we need to be fortifying our bonds. Anyway, I could go on forever—but seriously, read her book!

If you could have dinner with any three people in the world (living or dead), who would they be and why?

I would have dinner with my brother, Isaiah, who died from Leukemia when I was nineteen. I would make him dinner and introduce him to his nieces and nephews and just hug him again, one last time.

I’d also likely have dinner with Hannah Arendt and Frantz Fanon. First of all… can you IMAGINE the discourse? I’d take a lot of notes and ask so many questions about wicked problems I’ve been thinking about for years. Some of my desire to have dinner with them would be out of awe for the impact they’ve had on the world—but mostly it would be utilitarian. There is some shit we need to address and I think with new technology and information Fanon and Arendt might have some answers.